A recent Ovum report titled 'Technology Discontinuities in the Public Sector' notes that the rate of technology innovation is accelerating, creating an ever expanding array of so-called disruptive technologies, with more looming on the horizon each year.

The implications of quickening cycles of technology innovation for public and private sector enterprises are profound, driving significant changes in the economy, in industry, and in the operation of government and how it provides services. At the forefront of these changes are mobile devices, cloud services, social media, and analytics.


We have remarked in the past about the crisis of confidence in public sector ICT that has emerged in many jurisdictions -- with a history of project failures sapping the enthusiasm of executives for ICT-enabled reforms. One consequence has been the creation of ever more onerous governance arrangements and process controls aimed at reducing project risks. Another erstwhile risk mitigation has been the pursuit of 'fewer moving parts' strategies - consolidation, rationalisation, and standardisation - to create whole-of-government panels and shared services.

The tragedy has been these arrangements have not only failed to reduce risks, they have too often had the opposite effect and led to stiflingly inefficient and unresponsive infrastructure, common systems and procurement arrangements.

Driving slowly does not necessarily develop the skills needed to ensure a safe journey, and neither does driving while looking in the rearview mirror. Governments need new, more iterative approaches for assimilating rapidly evolving technologies and for learning how they can be applied as enablers of policy and service delivery reforms.

Old-school ICT strategies that sought to consolidate, rationalise, and standardise are now recognised as wasteful from many perspectives, but most particularly because of their impact on organisational learning in agencies during periods of technology disruption.

Jurisdiction-wide common applications or shared services projects take many years to fail, all the while acting as a brake on ICT-enabled transformation projects within agencies. As the pace of technology change quickens, the risk profile of large centralisation projects increases -- they take too long and are too inflexible. Their opportunity cost is measured in the inactivity of agencies while they wait on the platform for a train that never arrives.

As the pace of technology change accelerates, agencies must be empowered to more quickly understand and 'skill up' for the changing opportunities and risks. In particular they must learn how to manage the successful implementation of new technologies using more agile and pragmatic techniques for defining requirements and managing projects. The cycle time of innovation and learning must be accelerated.

Banking on experience

Remember, the workings of compounding interest in your bank account? This observation reinforces a commonsense view around the practical effects of innovation on organisational learning. More is better. Sooner is better. Get started today.

Success in the modern digital economy is substantially a matter of getting started earlier and learning faster. Try new things. Discover what works and do more of it. Discover what doesn't work and do less of it. Early investments in digital services innovations, just like early savings in a bank account, generate benefits that compound the following year. Confidence and benefits compound over time, increasing executive's faith in the transformative power of ICT ... and increasing willingness to invest more next year.

This emerging logic of what we refer to as "compounding organisational learning" is a consequence of the shortened cycle time of innovation that is enabled by the new generation of digital technologies, particularly smartphone apps and cloud services. These technologies are both raising customer demand for innovation as well as creating new, more agile organisational behavior options on the supply side of the equation.

Cloud services, in particular, are a game changer because they are engineered from the ground up to be shared, and they deliver the benefits of both scale and choice to agencies. Their arm's-length nature combined with the fact that they are "pure" shared services -- designed for multi-tenancy and configurability -- means that they are ideally suited to become the shared platforms that government ICT strategies have been seeking for decades. This has significant implications for the logic of government ICT strategy and the role of ICT leadership.

Looking forward, the key change required is for agencies to accelerate the cycle time of organisational learning by buying services that work, rather than attempting to renovate existing infrastructure and systems that don't.