Category Archives: Digital transformation

I want the ‘shiny’

I have always loved the Monty Python sketch in the operating theatre where one of the surgeons says ‘I want the machine that goes ping’. He is only happy once it is in the corner of the room pinging away.

In the digital world the same phrase could be ‘I want the shiny’.

What is the ‘shiny’?

The shiny is the web page/site/application that is relatively quick to build and not too expensive that puts a nice and no doubt improved skin on an existing service.

The typical sequence is to choose an ‘easy’ target of a poorly functioning service; run an Agile project; do lots of user workshops; spin up some web pages; Alpha; Beta etc. The end result is a nice feature that users like and generates some good feedback. Cue some pats on the back; presentations and repeat. Plus there is a new shiny.

So what’s the problem?

Exactly, what was the real problem? Was it the skin that was changed; or the underlying infrastructure/process? Was anything done about the later? Probably not. Why not? Well that is a bit more of a challenge involving often some complicated moving parts; multiple organisations and legacy systems. Who wants to work on a project that will clearly take many months or years; why not go for the ‘shiny’ quick win, take the money and run.

An interesting conflict arises when an organisation actually wants to look at the deeper longer term problems but externally it is put under pressure to do the shiny.

So if you are working on a digital project you might want to ask yourself ‘am working on a shiny? Or if you are a commissioner ‘am I asking for a shiny’? Go on be honest….

Is ‘digital transformation’ similar to the industrial revolution?

I apologise if you are expecting some great insights as my point is rather modest.

When I studied the Industrial revolution for A level History one thing stuck in my mind. Earlier books on the subject had titles that confidently stated ‘The Industrial revolution 1785-1815’ or similar. The period was clearly defined.  As were the people and technology – Arkwright and the spinning Jenny; Watt and the steam engine; Stevenson and the Rocket. Legitimate legends one and all. The changes were – automation, mechanisation, lots of digging and drilling; mills and factories – the decline of the hand-loom weavers.

However the more I read the more I noticed people saying, ‘well maybe the time period is a bit restricted?’ ‘I can see some earlier industrialisation in the early 1700s’. By the time I finished reading the ‘revolution’ was being pushed back much further back to when the Cornish tin mines existed. Equally the end date started getting pushed forward and the depth and width of the changes to society were questioned. In fact was there really a revolution at all?

So is there a comparison with ‘digital transformation’. I am using the inverted commas deliberately. What is digital and what is transformation?

Is/was Mike Bracken James Watt? Are developers being industrialised for the public sector? Are they previously independent ‘craftsmen’ in a cottage industry made cunningly to feel at home producing industrial code in centres of ‘digital excellence’? Is flexible/remote working and shiny devices the modern digital equivalent of factory schools – a way for ‘benevolent employers’ to tie workers to an industrial routine?

I have a distinct feeling that in decades someone will look back and say – ‘how many consultants made fortunes peddling the snake oil of digital transformation‘? On the side of the bottle it said it would cure – high expenditure; demotivated staff; fix legacy systems; guaranteed to give you satisfied users. Equally how many authors will have made an easy buck  with ‘Digital transformation for dummies’; ‘Lean digital transformation’; ‘The digital waterfall transformed’.  Or conference organisers coin cash from events called ‘How digital transformed my X organisation’; ‘What have we learnt from digital transformation?’; ‘Digital transformation from the users’ perspective’. (These are all made up by the way).

You get the point.

As I said a while ago the similarity is probably that the Industrial Revolution turned out to be difficult to define, describe or date – I expect something similar to be found with ‘digital transformation’.


Does digital transformation really exist?

I have heard the phrase digital transformation bandied around a lot around and it made we wonder what does it actually mean?

I suspect that we all having an image in our minds when we think of digital transformation.

Does the meaning of the phrase depend on our roles and mindsets?

So if you speak to a certain group of people in central government, particularly those with links to the Government Digital Service, they might start talking about the 25 odd digital exemplar projects. Here is their list of projects on a page labelled transformation.

If you talk to someone who works in communications their idea of transformation might be killing off press releases and having a longer term relationship with audiences based around engagement and outreach.

Some of my colleagues are interested in getting rid of paper in certain meetings and they see this as digital transformation.

Or does it relate to the collection and manipulation of data?

Are these all aspects of the same thing called digital transformation or totally separate changes?

What happens if we separate out some of these words and ideas?

What does digital transformation really mean?

Is it one of these phrases a bit like the ‘industrial revolution’ which first referred to a short period of say 1780 to 1825 but then got stretched back to cover tin mining in Cornwall centuries before; and went much further into the nineteenth century. How long does transformation take? One month, one year, one decade?

Is transformation just the steady migration of functions and services into an electronic format? In theory we could probably map this and see where it is heading next. Is this process a bit like industrialisation which led to the standardisation and mechanisation of previously individual, often manual labour?

When we look at say, the exemplar projects, are these much more than the application of business process management, (Lean etc) to functions in the aim of rationalising and making them more efficient using the tools available now?

When did digital communications start to be transformed? With the introduction of the morse code, radio, telephone, television?

I’m not sure that I know the answer to the question ‘does digital transformation really exist’.

However it would be nice if the real digital transformation could stand up and reveal itself while the imposters run away.



Are there any common principles for digital services?

I have recently been involved in looking at some internal digital services in the role of Digital Architect.

During this process I have a mental model of the key points that I would expect in any service.

These are pretty generic and I would ask them for any new service, or an old one which is being transformed.

They might not all apply to every service.

I am not saying that we should always take the relevant action but we should make sure that we consider them.

See what you think. Would you add anything extra?


  • We will focus on our known user needs: if we do not know what these user needs are we will find out
  • We work based around personas, user cases and tasks
  • We will provide a consistent user experience (e.g. buttons look the same and generate the same action)
  • User feedback is integrated into every product creation process and inbuilt once a product is live
  • When users look for information they should be confident that they have found everything on that topic
  • We should always aim to be able to re-use information/data externally for the benefits of our clients
  • Information/data should be input once and retrieved many times
  • Content should only be in one place either internally or externally and not duplicated
  • We follow an agile, modular, design and build approach
  • Wherever possible we will create API to allow the easy reuse of data/information internally or externally
  • We will always consider if content or processes can be made as a app
  • We should focus on open standards and avoid vendor or supplier lock-in
  • Any information or data should be easily exportable from any system
  • Each process will have a high level process map to fit into the NAO QMS
  • We will identify poorly performing processes with a view to transforming them
  • We aim to minimise the number of user actions/clicks for every process
  • We will create agreed performance metrics and create a performance dashboard
  • We must follow recognised governance and risk management procedures