If digital is so brilliant, why do so many organisations struggle to make a success of it?

Digital offers faster, slicker ways to communicate. Precious staff time stretches further, flexing around the ways you and your customers work – so that they can ask a question from their sofa in the evening you can answer it from your laptop the next morning. What’s not to like?

Often the IT we use is arranged around the organisations that use it, not the customers using the service. Organisations hire in consultants, scope out a bespoke solution at some cost, spend several years getting there and then wonder why the result is neither very flexible nor much loved by the staff that the system was built for in the first place! This was certainly the view of the tutors on the SCVO Senior Leaders Programme I attended earlier this year.

I recognised quite a lot of this in thinking about my own work history. I work for Home Energy Scotland, an organisation that offers advice to the public, on behalf of the Scottish Government. A few years ago our solution to problems might well have been to commission external IT experts to develop a solution, then try to arrange our staff and customers around it. Now, its about starting with the customers, what do they want, how can we get it to them. Next, we might think about our staff and what they need to do this. Then, finally, it’s the technology. We look to buy off-the-shelf, get it adapted to fit our needs and have teams who feel confident about using digital channels to deliver.

OK, being completely honest here, we have made a lot of progress, but we are not quite there yet, particularly that last bit. We have a digital strategy. We’ve done our research; we know what our customers want. We have a service design approach. We know the technology choices we need to make. The middle bit – involving the people – is coming, but it just takes a little bit longer. You need to move at the speed at which everyone can absorb change. Too fast and it’s just some newfangled idea, another thing you ‘do to them’ not with them. The result, minimal and reluctant engagement, rubbish results. Too slow and, at best, you lose momentum, at worst, you become a dinosaur.

In a bid to find the goldilocks zone, earlier this year I was lucky enough to get onto SCVO’s Senior Leaders Programme. I wanted to feel more confident about the digital choices we needed to make. This gave me a lot of what I needed to help support my people in the transition to making digital an equal part of the advice we deliver. Then COVID happened. That changed everything. Suddenly we were all digital. Our digital strategy is still advancing nicely, we have begun delivering advice by email, a standalone website, social media channels and a stronger understanding of what we can do to support our customers digitally.

But this is also still work in progress. Our advisors are magnificent; hired for their ability to be experts in their field and great with the customers they talk to everyday. Not necessarily hired for digital expertise. We need to make our advisors feel as confident advising a customer through a message on twitter as they would visiting a vulnerable householder in their home.

We are not there yet but we are on our way!


If you would like to feel more confident about the digital choices you make, apply now for the SCVO Senior Leaders Programme 2021. It is open for applications until 30th October 2020.