In my view, there are several distinct types of ‘fake transformation’ in the public sector. I want to list them here, because understanding them is very helpful in deciding how to proceed and how to avoid project issues or failures.
1 – The silver bullet
This type is about expecting a silver bullet, a single solution to cure all ills. It typically goes like this: new leadership decides that a different solution is required. They have been brought in to transform something, and dammit, transform they will! They then buy a system (CRM, CSM, ERP is always a good choice). Once deployed, the organisation will turn into a well-oiled, purring, effective machine.
2 – The lip service
This type is in many ways the opposite. While the rhetoric is similar, no actual action is planned. The task is given to more junior members of staff, or perhaps the IT team. A few projects are identified here and there. No overriding goals are set, and in many respects, things stay ‘business as usual’. When cuts or cost reductions happen, they normally take a little from everyone. The project itself (if it happens) might even end up being entirely technical like a SAN refresh, or niche, like a Google apps deployment or O365 migration.
3 – The interim (sometimes after a “Silver Bullet” or “The Ego” hit a brick wall)
This may happen when an organisation has an interim leader, or an interim state (or both). There is talk of ‘righting the ship’ and getting things stable, but as part of a broader programme. This is not certain, or it’s so long term that technology and the organisation will change by itself so much that the original goals could not possibly remain applicable. Typically, there is a bunch of renewals of legacy technology, and perhaps some consolidation.
4 – The Ego.
My personal favourite. This is driven – frequently in the right direction – by the sheer strength of will and vision of an individual in the organisation. That may be the CEO, CIO, or a councillor. This is easily mistaken for the real transformation, and may actually become the real transformation. However, there are massive risks:
a) Ego leaves or loses interest - the whole thing dies
b) Ego is not as popular as they think they are, or there are more powerful people out there who are very capable and willing to block the project
c) Budget, performance, or strategy are not solid enough to see the way to the finish - or something happens or takes higher priority halfway through
d) The real problems are not understood or considered, and although the programme succeeds on some level, the results are disappointing.
5 – The market
This is probably the one to look out for the most. This is where some desire to change exists, but no one knows what to do, and no one wants to lead. So it’s decided to use procurement to go and buy ‘one of these transformation projects everyone is talking about’. Excellent. Nothing can go wrong with this solid plan. Of course, procurement would be big, and take a while, so let’s do a full Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) process for six months, see lots of people, have a few supplier days. Surely one of those smart suppliers (consulting firms, tech firms, outsourcers) will be good. Everyone knows that you can’t go wrong if they pick the cheapest option.
There are endless flavours of each type and multiple sub-divisions of each flavour. And, these types are of course not mutually exclusive. Broadly speaking, of the above, 1 and 4 can be rescued and turned into a real transformation. 2,3 and 5 have little hope of actually changing the organisation for the better. In most cases, 2,3 and 5 are best left alone, as they will be back in two to four years with new leadership, depending on how fast they blow up.