How can larger organisations today press reset on their digital strategy? Julian Birkinshaw and Mike Bracken, former head of the UK’s Government Digital Service unit, discuss
The digital revolution has powered the capabilities of many Silicon Valley darlings. But putting people’s needs at the heart of a digital-first strategy isn’t limited to fast-growing firms in southern San Francisco Bay. Even the most bureaucratic organisations can innovate.
The UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) is a shining example of lifting an antiquated institution into the future. Mike Bracken, partner of Public Digital, a consultancy helping governments and public institutions to transform, was hired by UK cabinet secretary Francis Maude to run GDS in 2010. His successful endeavour was dubbed “the gold standard in the global world of digital government” by the Wall Street Journal. In 2013, GDS won the Design of the Year award for its user-centric website www.gov.uk.
Speaking to Julian Birkinshaw, Academic Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Bracken candidly shares the challenges of turning a civil service website into an intuitive user experience.
When Bracken took up the position, the government hosted 3,000 individual websites and took a piecemeal approach to extracting and sharing information with the public. “An amazing amount of human ingenuity has to go into that degree of bewildering complexity,” he laughs.
Acting fast is the key to transforming an institution more familiar with inertia than pace. Forget grand 10-year visions. Forget lengthy white papers. Get moving and let go of control. “Strategy,” he tells Professor Birkinshaw, “is delivery.”
Liberate people, begin with execution, encourage innovation – and name the strategy later, he explains. Initially, Bracken’s GDS team worked on simple projects, such as tax discs for drivers, putting users’ needs ahead of the government’s. He led an agile unit, iterating fast, and gradually scaled his efforts.
Bracken shares how to apply this model across geographies such as South America, sectors and industries.
Bracken is a visiting professor at the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London and advisor to the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Centre for Public Impact. Previously, he was Chief Digital Officer with the Co-operative Group.
This podcast is part of the Digital Disruption Briefings.
Previous podcast: Professor Birkinshaw interviews Associate Professor Nicos Savva and Gabriel Straub, Head of Data Science and Architecture at the BBC, on 'How data science can boost your business'.