Shared CDO – looking for alignment

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A key role for any CDO in an organisation is looking for, and creating, alignment.

The obvious one in the digital sphere is looking for alignment between the organisation’s preferred outcomes, and the needs of the people who use its services or products.

Take channel shift as a fairly obvious example. The outcomes that a council wants to see are more people using cheaper channels to access services and interact with it.

The needs of the people doing this interacting are to have efficient, usable services that let them get the help they need with the minimum of fuss.

By aligning these two things, a strategist can easily plot a course where developing high quality online services gives both sides what they want.

Not aligning them, by focusing too much or even exclusively on the organisation’s outcomes, will lead to failure to achieve either side’s objectives – because even if people want to use online services, they won’t if they are poorly designed.

It is possible to think of alignment as a tool for making things happen. Within an organisation, there will be many different motivations and objectives. Senior leaders want one thing. Service managers another. As CDO, you will have your own.

Rather than trying to convince people to do things they don’t feel they want to, the better approach is to consider what their preferred outcomes are, and align them with your own.

Finding this alignment allows you to build a shared sense of purpose and mission, and will reduce the friction you get when people feel like you are trying to make them change against their will.

What attributes does a shared CDO need?

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After a brief hiatus, here’s another post on the idea of the shared chief digital officer. The others are here.

So, what does a shared CDO look and sound like?

Firstly, perhaps it’s a good idea to say what the shared CDO is not – and that is just a rebranded CIO, or chief information officer. The role of CDO is not an IT position. Instead, it is a strategic role where end user needs and the objectives of the organisation are aligned.

So, what are the things we should look for in a good, shared CDO?

  • people and outcome focused – and definitely not solution focused. The CDO must be totally bought into what the organisations want to achieve for their people, as well as a focus on the needs of those people themselves. This should be what drives the design of the solutions, rather than picking tools first.
  • influence and persuasion – hugely important will be the ability to be able to convince senior people across the organisation and those in political roles of the importance of digital, especially in terms of the new ways of working, focusing on user needs with agile methods
  • strategic – the CDO has to be able to take a strategic view, freeing up practitioners to get on with what they do best whilst providing the vision so everybody knows where they are headed
  • great communication – being able to communicate what can be complex issues and technical issues to different audiences is key. Being able to come up with a narrative that will bring different groups on board with transformation activity is a key skill
  • networked – a shared CDO needs access to a large network, in terms of finding support and advice, examples of good work elsewhere and so on. Equally, having a network of suppliers in the form of SMEs and freelancers will be vital in filling in gaps in capability on the team
  • open – the shared nature of the position means that the CDO cannot be anything other than open in the way they work. This means not seeking credit, but ensuring that the delivery of outcomes alone will be the evidence needed that the role is being done effectively. Sharing knowledge, experience, tools and processes openly will help embed them in the organisations the CDO works with
  • technical understanding – whilst the CDO is not a technical role, having an understanding of how the mechanics of the web and other technology works is really important. This will help keep those delivering technology on board, as they trust that the CDO knows what they are talking about, and will also give others confidence in the CDO’s ability to deliver
  • team-building – as mentioned several times in my recent post on digital innovation, building the digital transformation team is a key role for the CDO. This requires the right skills to do so – a collaborative attitude, the ability to get people to buy into a vision and to provide just enough leadership to motivate people without getting in their way
  • thorough understanding of and commitment to user centred design and agile – a bit wordy, but these two things are absolutely vital to the CDO role. They are, in a way, what separates digital from other ways of working. Not only must the CDO be totally fluent when it comes to user focus and agile, they must truly believe in it. Anyone pretending will be found out pretty soon.

That’s my list. I’d be interested to hear what others might add, or indeed take out.

The shared CDO – putting the team together

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So in my last post I discussed the idea of the shared CDO – a chief digital officer who works across a few different organisations to help them transform their services and working practices.

One of the first tasks facing a shared CDO would be to get the multidisciplinary team together to make things happen. The CDO can’t do everything on their own, after all.

What are the skills needed for the team?

  • delivery management
  • service design
  • user research
  • development
  • content design
  • technology architecture
  • digital inclusion / assisted digital
  • technology operations

Note that while these are all roles that need to be present on the team, they don’t necessarily map to full time roles.

The CDO being shared also means, I think, that the team should be shared as well, with people with the required skills from all the organisations involved being a part of the team. This means the councils sharing staff when needed, but also others, such as whoever delivers a shared back office, or other organisations delivering services.

It is likely of course that some of the roles or skills are not present in any of the organisations involved. That’s fine, and so part of the team must be made up of SMEs and freelancers, who are considered members of the team but come in as and when needed. It’s helpful if it is always the same people, or at least from a pool, so relationships and trust can be built.

It may well be that this team will operate virtually, with full time roles at their parent organisations, who come together – black ops style – to get stuff done when needed.

Once the team is together, it’s time to start work. More on that in a future post.

CDO as a service – the real local GDS?

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Emerging technologies and new ways of working bring with them new jobs, and new roles. One of those is the ‘chief digital officer’ or CDO.

I’ve always been an advocate of organisations having a senior member of staff who has the clout to be able to push through digital transformation and the necessary culture change. A CDO could well be that person.

However, for many smaller organisations – take district councils, say, or mid sized charities – who nonetheless have the scale in terms of service delivery to need the skills of such a person, might not be able to afford one. So what do they do?

In conversation with Adrian Hancock from SOCITM earlier this week, we discussed the potential for a shared chief digital officer between a group of organisations – around four probably being the maximum.

Each organisation would use a common framework and process for managing the digital shift and transformation. The outcomes in each may differ, of course, but the underlying process would be the same – making the CDO’s life easier but also enabling the partnering organisations to benefit from shared experience and sharing other resources, human and otherwise.

This then could form what the “local government GDS” should be. Local centres of good practice centred around a leader in the local digital space, with shared platforms, code bases, processes, services and people.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?