I'm doing an apprenticeship MSc in Digital Technology. In the spirit of openness, I'm blogging my research and my assignments.
This is my paper from the Technical and Digital Leadership module. I think it is fair to say I didn't get on too well with it. I found it very focused on American companies - which wasn't great for someone working in the UK Civil Service. It also had a weird focus on discredited management fads like MBTI.
Considering it was my first ever assignment, I was delighted to score 62%. In the English system 50% is a pass, 60% is a commendation, 70% is distinction.
A few disclaimers:
- I don't claim it to be brilliant. This is the first academic-style paper I've written in a couple of decades
- This is a fictional business case. This isn't how I'd write a normal business case - and the numbers are all made up.
- This isn't the policy of my employer, nor does it represent their opinions. It has only been assessed from an academic point of view.
- It has not been peer reviewed, nor are the data guaranteed to be an accurate reflection of reality. Cite at your own peril.
- I've quickly converted this from Google Docs + Zotero into MarkDown. Who knows what weird formatting that'll introduce!
And, once more, this is not official policy. It was not commissioned by anyone. It is an academic exercise. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Seamless, real time communication is an essential part of the digital workplace.
Current platforms within Government allow for limited and non-interoperable means of internal and external communication channels.
In order to take full advantage of the digital transformation occurring in industry, we need to procure a tool that allows us to have access to a real time collaboration platform:
- within GDS
- across Government departments
- with our colleagues outside of Government
- with our "competitors" in foreign Governments
Digital transformation via collaboration tools is now an expected part of the modern workplace. These platforms have been part of the Gartner "Hype Cycle" for several years (Woodbridge & Cain, 2017), and now appear to have reached maturity (Cannell, 2019).
I propose adopting a solution based on the Matrix Protocol (Schipper et al., 2021).
This would be procured via the usual public sector procurement rules (Crown Commercial Service, 2021).
This business case uses indicative pricing based on current market rates.
This business case is to procure an interoperable, real time chat and collaboration platform for Government Digital Service (GDS) which can be federated with other collaboration platform providers.
GDS is "the gold standard public digital agency" (UCL, 2021). It has a budget of £40m and around 900 employees.
Communication and collaboration in large organisations is complex. With multiple delivery channels (e.g. emails, intranets, meetings) information can be hard to disseminate. Internally, Civil Servants report that it is hard to communicate with peers - even within the same team. A mixture of messaging tools like Slack, Teams, and Hangouts means that it is difficult to know which platform a colleague will be on. The ability to quickly find the right way to contact a colleague has been a long-standing problem in industry (Manley, 1981).
Users also report frustration at being unable to easily collaborate with people outside of their organisation. This reduces their ability to work efficiently and effectively.
The large number of people in GDS presents a challenge. Dunbar posits an upper limit on the number of meaningful relationships a person can form (Dunbar, 1992). Even with modern technology platforms, this problem persists as shown by research into mobile phone conversations (MacCarron et al., 2016).
The problem can be mitigated to some extent by giving workers the ability to exploit the second-order connections of their peers. In this way, a real time collaboration platform can open up communication and co-working across the organisation.
Procuring and using a modern collaborative communication platform would give users the ability to engage in real-time text and video chat across the whole Civil Service and beyond. This will unlock the creative potential of our staff as we move into an era of remote work.
We also expect it to improve our employees' wellbeing and productivity (Swain et al., 2020).
- 2010: GDS adopted Google's chat functionality for internal communications.
- 2015: GDS adopted Slack as an alternative internal chat provider.
- 2016: A cross-department Slack was set up. This has 12,000 users - mostly public servants - and is currently on a free-tier.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently issued enforcement notices against the Cabinet Office due to their use of Slack (Information Commissioner’s Office, 2019).
To comply with our legal duties in regards to GDPR (Data Protection Act 2018), we need to procure a collaboration tool which meets these information management obligations.
The free-tier of Slack restricts users ability to retrieve historic content, limits the number of external integration tools, and does not allow connection to our existing authentication infrastructure (Slack, 2021).
A user-needs analysis was carried out in line with the GDS Service Standard (GOV.UK, 2018).
The following user stories (Memmel & Jocham, 2010) were identified:
- As a Civil Servant, I want to communicate with other Civil Servants, so that I can work more efficiently.
- As a Data Protection Officer, I want to comply with our GDPR obligations, so that we do not get prosecuted.
- As someone working across multiple departments, I want an easy way to work in real-time with colleagues, so that I do not need to use several different systems.
- As a manager, I need to be able to review private messages in case of complaint, to help us protect vulnerable staff members.
- As a security assessor, I need to ensure that government communications are secure and free from interference, so that SECRET and SENSITIVE level data can be safely exchanged.
Procuring an interoperable, standards compliant collaboration platform has a number of benefits:
- Increases communication within a team leads to a more productive environment
- Ability to communicate with other departments - and those outside of government - leads to an improved pool of decision makers.
- Cross-Cultural communication is an essential part of the digital workplace.
- Reflects our commitment to open standards and software
- Promotes a growing British SME - showing Government commitment to the UK high-tech sector.
- Internal surveys show that users value real time collaboration.
Our recommendation is to procure a platform based on the Matrix Protocol (hereafter referred to as "Matrix").
Stakeholder Mapping is a method to understand the various parties impacted by a decision and the benefits that each might realise from it (Brett, 2019).
A map of stakeholders and their interests is a straightforward way to show the benefits that primary stakeholders expect to realise. There is value in understanding where stakeholders have shared interests.
There are some disadvantages:
- The diagram can quickly become complicated once there are multiple stakeholders with overlapping interests.
- It describes 1:1 or 1:N relationships - the reality may be more complex.
- It cannot assign weight to the importance of the stakeholder or the specific interest.
As discussed by Mendelow (1998), stakeholders can be mapped onto a 2-axis grid to indicate their ability to shape the decision-making process (power) and their desire to influence (interest).
A desktop research exercise was conducted to plot stakeholders on the grid:
The Power Interests Grid demonstrates where to focus attention. It can be a helpful way to recognise which stakeholders need to be prioritised.
There are some disadvantages:
- Limited dimensionality. It ignores axes like urgency or other time constraints, as well as ignoring whether stakeholders have previously been disenfranchised or discriminated against.
- Stakeholders change. The grid does not show velocity, or change over time. For example, as more Foreign Governments adopt the Matrix solution, their power may increase.
Both tools are good for visualising potential stakeholders. When the exercise was performed collaboratively, participants engaged in discussion around stakeholder placement and revealed hidden assumptions.
The Power Interests Grid met our needs better and was useful for visually explaining departmental priorities.
A traditional Data Value Generator (Rogers, 2016) does not always fit the public sector model. GDS is a monopoly provider of services with a captive audience. Whilst we seek to reduce operating costs, we do not directly generate revenue and have no intrinsic profit motive.
GDS has no "customers". Individual users (who may or may not be citizens) are legally compelled to use our services. Businesses have no choice but to use what we provide. Other public sector organisations are mandated to use our services.
These differences make it challenging to apply Data Value Generator models where value is solely considered in terms of customer acquisition or higher profit. Therefore, we need to rethink notions of value and how it is generated.
This collaboration platform will generate two sorts of value:
- Reduced operational costs.
- Improved productivity.
4. Review one or more digital industry-based/theoretical tools/techniques to compare and discuss the options that are being put forward in terms of category, attributes, features etc.
To help understand the external pressures on GDS, a PESTLE analysis (Nandonde, 2019) was conducted.
|External factors||Factors affected||Importance|
|Political||Government reorganisations may shuffle staff from one department to another.||GDS has recently reorganised and is unlikely to undergo another strategic review in the short term||Low|
|Economic||Low UK tax receipts due to COVID-19 may lead to spending constraints.||UK Spending review places restrictions on our budget.|
Closing of physical offices may accelerate the need for remote work.
|Social||Rise in telecommuting and working from home.||Government aims to move more Civil Servants out of London into regional offices|
(Nickson et al., 2020).
|Technology||Increase in UK broadband speed, and connectivity opportunities of 5G||Home workers are increasingly likely to have "Ultrafast" broadband - making online collaboration easier.||Low|
|Legal||GDRP & Equality Act||Risk of monetary fines and reputational failure.||High|
|Environmental||Reduction of carbon emissions.||UK hosting the COP26|
(UN Climate Change Conference, 2021)
The SWOT model is commonly used and widely understood (Rothaermel, 2019). It allows us to identify the organisation's position:
Digitally competent staff.
Open culture, willing to experiment.
Existing experience of collaborative platforms.
Multiple platforms means risk of fragmentation.
Team silos means work is often locked away.
Lack of time for training and development.
Ability to shape the way the Civil Service communicates.
Show global leadership.
Improve remote-working provision for our staff.
Other departments may lead in this area with less expertise.
Regulatory compliance costs.
Negative press for using these tools.
Both models are useful in understanding an organisation's position. PESTLE allows for a more nuanced and structured approach to discussing the situation.
SWOT forces binary choices (strong/weak and opportunity/threat) whereas PESTLE allows for a more subtle distinction. Similarly, SWOT doesn't allow the user to assign priority to the identified issues, but PESTLE allows for an importance ranking.
A survey of GDS staff was conducted to discover which chat options were used when GDS communicates internally and externally. Participants recorded what they liked and disliked about each tool:
- Google Meet
- Integrated into Single Sign On
- Approved and assessed by IT security
- No cross-domain functionality. All users must have a Google account.
- Concerns about having a single vendor. Increases risk of lock in and reduces competition.
- Familiar UI to majority of users
- Wide range of enterprise integrations
- Not approved for classified information
- Risk of information leakage if users swap between personal and work accounts.
The SWOT model allows us to see how well Matrix meets the identified organisational needs:
Wide use among international governments.
Open Standard means not tied to any one provider.
Cross Domain - any user can access.
Not an "industry standard" like Slack or Teams.
Lack of support from existing SSO providers like Google
May require user training on safe usage.
First mover advantage in UK
Ability to shape modern toolsets to our unique needs.
Create bespoke enterprise integrations.
May not be able to keep up with emerging communication needs.
Will need assurance on information security .
This analysis shows that Matrix addresses most of the weaknesses found in the other products. While not a perfect solution, it gives us more control to shape the future development to better suit our needs.
Matrix will tackle all the High and Medium importance issues identified in the PESTLE analysis of GDS. Matrix's strengths also align with the organisational weaknesses identified in the SWOT analysis of GDS.
These indicative costs are based on the commercial offering hosted by Supplier X. All figures exclude recoverable VAT.
- First year with vendor support utilising negotiated pricing support
- Annualised estimate: £x/year
- Subsequent years
- Annualised estimate:
- £x/year for x,000 active billable users
- "Reasonable Worst Case Scenario"
- £x/year for x,000 billable users
These procurement figures, and any project costs will need to be aligned with The Green Book (Treasury, 2020) before disseminating.
- Enhanced perception of GDS
- The department relies on its reputation as a digitally competent organisation.
- Improved Work/Life Balance
- Workers will not need to come into the office as often.
- More attractive staff offering
- Better technology tools may attract better staff.
- Reduced "lock in"
- The Government's Spending Review (GOV.UK, 2020) defines the budget for our department. This investment may simply be rejected.
- Public perception. Chat tools can be seen as frivolous use of Civil Servants' time (Greenwood & Jones, 2020) and a waste of taxpayers' money (Aron, 2018).
- Data Protection. GDPR places a burden on us to protect personal data. There will be an ongoing cost to maintaining compliance via user training, security patching, and monitoring.
- Security. A federated collaboration problem needs to maintain strict access controls to ensure unauthorised access to sensitive data is prohibited. A leak of confidential information could be devastating to our reputation and public trust (Mansfield-Devine, 2017).
- Vendor license costs will require ongoing budgetary approval. This is required to maintain the shared capability.
- Reputational risk.
- An inability to use modern, interoperable software gives the appearance that GDS is not forward-looking.
- It is politically important to maintain our OGP ranking (Open Government Partnership, 2021). This is awarded due to our successful adoption of Open Source Software and our championing of Open Standards.
- Incompatibility risk.
- If an open standard method of communication is not adopted, there is a risk that current and future software products may move to proprietary standards.
- This could mean data from Government are not interoperable with modern software, adding friction to the ability to communicate seamlessly.
- Data are already being kept on 3rd party systems. Without an approved tool, it is difficult to show that we take our data protection responsibilities seriously.
The recommendation is in three parts:
- Procure Matrix as the standard communications platform for GDS.
- Set up federation with other UK Government departments
- Investigate costs of running our own Matrix instance, using France's Matrix deployment (Dussutour, 2020) as a basis.
This course has helped crystalise what leadership means to me - and that this may be different from what leadership means to others. The majority of the reading for this course was focused on leadership within an American business environment - which is often radically different from what is expected of UK public sector leaders. At times, I found myself frustrated with the limited relevance of the course material.
I want to be a technical leader who can influence better outcomes for all users of Government services, via improved technology decisions. This will require aligning my career with the Government's Digital, Data and Technology Profession Capability Framework (GOV.UK, 2020).
I found James Brett's "Y shaped" model (Brett, 2019) a useful prototype for defining a potential future career:
I am on the "Thought Leader" path. I wish to tackle technical problems rather than manage people. Based on the assessments I took, I place great value on rational decision making and behaviour.
I need to understand that some of the people I work with will prefer non-scientific models of human behaviour - such as the discredited Myers-Briggs test (Bowers, 2002). The course introduced a variety of leadership styles. However there was limited discussion of their effectiveness. I have not been convinced of the efficacy or applicability of any of the models discussed.
The Civil Service has embraced digital transformation in some departments. The challenge now is to embed the culture and practice of digital transformation in all aspects of our work. I want to help my colleagues to understand how we can radically transform the provision of service delivery from the state.
I chose to compare the "5 Whys Technique" (Serrat, 2017) with Gibbs' Reflective Cycle (Gibbs, 1998).
- "5 Whys" is an industry standard model for investigating a "root cause analysis" of a specific issue.
- Gibbs' Reflective Cycle is a structured method for a comprehensive assessment of a situation.
"5 Whys" is useful where a single issue or incident needs investigating.
"Reflective Cycle" is more helpful where a comprehensive review of a multi-faceted issue needs to take place.
I have therefore selected to apply Gibbs' model to my progress within this module.
- Description of the experience:
- A brief course in Digital Leadership and Innovation
- The majority of content was by male authors, focused primarily on American businesses.
- Feelings and thoughts about the experience
- I thought the course was unstructured and unfocused.
- Most videos did not meet accessibility requirements. This made me feel excluded.
- Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
- I already understood most of the work from a practical standpoint. This gave me the academic vocabulary to express that knowledge formally.
- It encoded systemic bias into the teaching without reflecting on that behaviour.
- Analysis to make sense of the situation
- Generic courses with mass attendance will not provide suitably rigorous teaching and feedback.
- Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
- I need to ensure that lecturers are aware of accessibility needs before I take a module.
- Action plan
- Fully assess a module before taking it
- Speak up if the module isn't meeting my learning needs
- Ensure content I create is focused, relevant, and inclusive.
- I've chosen to compare Brett's "Digital Situational Leadership" model (Brett, 2019b), and Gartner's "5 Step model" (Panetta, 2019).
- Brett's Digital Situational Leadership model is a reflexive tool which records a participant's current position and desired trajectory:
- Gartner's 5 Step model gives practitioners a practical guide to assessing their biases and to making practical changes.
- I find Brett's model an unhelpful way to view an individual's progress as it is lacking in both multidimensionality and practical actions to take.
- The Gartner model includes feedback and reinforcement, and can be applied across several axes. This makes it more suitable for practitioners.
Applying the Gartner model indicates that:
- I need to reframe my core beliefs around treating people with empathy - especially those with low digital skills.
- I should accelerate my reliance on digital tools.
- I will experiment with different tools and behaviours with my team, to evaluate what suits us collectively.
- I took assessments with both the British Computer Society and Institution of Engineering and Technology.
- Both accepted my evidence of professional practice and granted me membership.
- Improve my communication of the National Data Strategy (GOV.UK, 2020).
- Develop my training skills to enable others to evangelise the need for open data and open standards.
- Active listening
- Understanding other people is a key component of helping to lead them to make better decisions.
- Successfully conveying a vision isn't just about being able to recite data and analysis.
- Leadership is about delegation. I must ensure that the work can be done if I am unable to lead it personally.
- I have given well-received training sessions, but they have not yet produced the desired long-term outcomes.
- I sometimes struggle to understand other people's decision making processes.
- I am an award-winning presenter, however I want to further hone these skills in a professional environment.
- Over the next two years, I will run training sessions every quarter and gather feedback in a standardised format.
- This year I will take on at least one more mentee and record my progress with them.
- Within 6 months, I will give professional presentations to my peers and stakeholders both internally and externally. I will gather audience feedback.
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