Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

A Resolution for Digital Transformation

The end of January is a special time of year. It’s the time of year when many people come to fully understand their resolve in sticking to their New Year’s resolutions.

Improved fitness is a common resolution, and many people make it only a few weeks into the year before they throw in the towel – literally and figuratively. Sticking to your resolution to get fit can be hard, mostly because people go into it not fully understanding what it entails, or exactly what they want to get out of it.

It’s often the same with digital transformations.

Most organizations go through a similar exercise of resolving to do better, and undertake a digital transformation. Many of these organizations end up throwing in the towel, and sometimes the reasons are the same as when people given up on their resolution to be more fit.

Having a goal

Most people that make a resolution to get more fit don’t have a good idea of what “getting fit” means for them. Do they want to lose weight? If so, about how much? Do they want to get stronger? Lower their cholesterol? Complete a 1/2 marathon?

Without a concrete set of objectives, a resolution to “get fit” quickly devolves into a series of joyless slogs to the gym. You have no way to measure your progress toward a goal because you didn’t set out with any specific goals in mind.

This is true for digital transformations as well. Organizations that don’t set out on their transformation journeys with specific objectives are doomed to an endless series of meetings and exercises where people talk about “being more innovative.” If you don’t know what you want your organization to transform into, and have metrics to measure your progress toward these goals, your transformation effort will probably fail.

Embracing the process

A primary reason that most people fail in their fitness resolutions is because they mistakenly view fitness as an outcome, rather than a process.

Getting fit isn’t and endpoint, it is a continual process that requires you to change your lifestyle. You have to adopt new habits, and new ways of doing things and then continually evolve those changes over time to meet the changes in your life. How you stay fit will change over time as you start a family, when your kids leave for college, when you retire. Fitness isn’t a change you make, it is a process of changing over time.

Approaching a digital transformation effort with the idea that when it’s finished your organization will be magically transformed is just as flawed. True digital transformation requires a change in the culture of your organization, one that evolves over time as new constraints and opportunities emerge.

In it for the long haul

No one gets fit overnight, or even in a whole month. It is a process that takes time and requires consistent commitment and the right approach to be successful.

Digital transformations are the same. If you approach the process correctly, you’ll change the way your organization works forever. But without the right approach, you’ll end up throwing in the towel and resolving to try and do better next year.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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