Chris Chant has long been one of the most controversial voices in public sector IT. Formerly executive director of the G-Cloud programme in the Cabinet Office, he is now with consultancy Rainmaker Solutions, still speaking out and still ruffling feathers over how government does IT programmes.
Over recent months he has contributed a series of written and video blogs for the Local Digital News Blog, covering issues such as user-centricity, security, skills and leadership. And the subject that is always to the fore in his thinking is the importance of “working out loud“.
The call to be unprecedentedly open about what you are doing might be counter-instinctive to many people in government, but Chant argues in his column on tips for digital transformation that it is an essential piece of encouraging input from users and establishing a clear vision and alignment for a programme.
He says in his ‘Tell it like it is ‘ video blog that working out loud can give people the confidence to have frank discussions about a project, and be brave enough to do what is needed when it takes them out of their ‘safe zone’. It is also a great way to share problems, and that talking about them will often lead to solutions.
Working out loud is relevant to any aspect of IT implementation, not least security. Chant highlights this when addressing G-cloud security and the need to combine data security with user needs. He highlights that is as important in the area of security as anywhere else, providing the example that when public sector buyers can validate the claims of a supplier, they can make things easier for people in other public authorities by sharing the validation.
Another recurring theme is the importance of constantly thinking about what the user needs. It is within the tips for digital transformation, and the blog on exploiting the cloud , with the advice that it begins with buying products and services.
It also influences thoughts about data security. “At the heart of your design must be user need,” Chant says.” Your design must start exactly there, and when you understand that need and what must be measured, only then do you consider the security need.”
This can lead to the provision of “appropriate security”, which strikes the right balance between protecting data and ensuring that people can use IT solutions without undue inconvenience. Chant contends this is what organisations should aim for, as absolute security is impossible.
Iterative development — or agile working as it is often known — has also been high on the agenda. The lesson, stated clearly in the exploiting cloud blog, is: “Build something, try it out on customers, watch how they use the service, get feedback, then quickly improve the service. And repeat.”
Chant returns to the theme of building skills and capability. This is an important element of the piece on exploiting the cloud, in which Chant says the first step is to ask if you have the right skills, with the guidance that “digitally skilled people expect technology to support what they do, at the speed they need to do it, and not get in the way.”
It is unlikely that an organisation will find it has all the people needed to meet its aim, and some will have to be reskilled; but this needs a plan and it has to be done quickly.
Then comes the issue of leadership. It has long been identified as a key factor in achieving a successful change, but in the video blog on leaders and the digital revolution, Chant says too many leaders are falling short.
They see initiatives such as the G-Cloud in isolation rather than as part of a broad transformation. If they don’t get the broader vision it is going to hold back their organisations and undermine public trust. They have to wake up to the revolution now.
This is a reproduction of an article Chris Chant contributed to the Local Digital Campaign.