How many people does it take to tame the Digital Dragon?

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan January 16, 2014
Gartner's warning that most organisations don't have the right skills base internally to 'tame the digital dragon'. And it's not enough just to appoint a CDO either!

Following all my pent-up frustration - and frankly not so pent-up criticism - surrounding the way the UK government’s biggest and most important IT programme has been (mis)handled, yesterday brought a cathartic moment relief with a ‘gotta laugh or you’d cry unstoppably’ event.

The Universal Credit programme has seen millions of pounds of IT development work written off already with prospect of millions more to come. It’s shifting now onto a revised digital first path, but essentially without the full-scale help of the Government Digital Service (GDS) after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided it could manage with its own in-house resources.

Kudos then to Derek du Preez over at ComputerworldUK for asking the question of how many IT people inside the DWP are working on the digital transformation of a programme that is too big to fail and which will impact on the lives of millions of people in the UK.

Answer: 3!

Yup, 3 - as in one, two, three.

No missing zeros on the end.

Just 3.

du Preez reports:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) enhanced digital system for Universal Credit, which will be used for the national rollout in 2017, is currently being supported by just three DWP IT employees.

We’d been aware that the DWP was in panic mode about where it was going to source digital skills to support UC following its tiff with the GDS - Computer Weekly’s Bryan Glick reported this week that in the race to find 50 staff to work on the programme, existing DWP personnel had been asked to ask their friends if they wanted to help out! - but 3?

Oh lordy - Universal Credit remains the gift that keeps on giving! Three people out of a current in-house UC IT staff of 50 people working on digital while the remaining 47 toil away on systems that we already know are basically going to be scrapped!

Digital dragons

The DWP should have paid heed to a new briefing note - Taming the Digital Dragon: the 2014 CIO Agenda - from Gartner which warns that traditional IT structures within organisations just aren’t ready for all this digital shift malarky just yet.

Citing a global survey of 2,339 CIOs by Gartner’s Executive Programs, the research firm paints an alarming picture of a generation of CIOs and IT decision makers overwhelmed by the prospect of building digital leadership while renovating the core of IT infrastructure and capability for the digital future.

Some stats to chill the blood:

  • 51% of CIOs are concerned that the digital torrent is coming faster than they can cope
  • 42% don't feel that they have the talent needed to face this future.
  • Respondents told Gartner that 25% or less of existing IT talent is fit to make the shift to digital.

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In light of this, Gartner argues the case for a three part response to tame the so-called ‘digital dragon’ as it’s not enough just to source a Chief Digital Officer  (CDO) and hope for the best.

What’s needed is:

  • The creation of powerful digital leadership
  • The renovation of the IT core of the organisation
  • The building of bimodal capability.

Gartner advises:

To exploit digital opportunities and ensure that the core of IT services is ready, there must be clear digital leadership, strategy and governance, and all business executives must become digitally savvy.

There is a fast-rising trend to hire chief digital officers, who are more likely to come from roles in the rest of the business than from IT. whatever their previous roles, digital leadership must be clear and powerful. Clarifying the coverage and scope of digital leadership, and integration with enterprise IT leadership, should be high on every CIO’s agenda in 2014.

But individual digital leaders are not enough — all business leaders must become digital leaders. The 2014 CIO Survey found that the CEO’s digital savvy is one of the best indicators of IT and business performance.

To raise digital awareness and digital savvy in your company or public-sector agency, consider interventions like digital non-executive directors, technology showcases, “hackathons” (intensive periods for discovering and creating innovations) and reverse mentoring.

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And while the most recent phase of enterprise IT has been about planning IT right, being predictable and creating value with minimal risk, that’s all about to change:

To capture digital opportunities, CIOs need to deal with speed, innovation and uncertainty. This requires operating two modes of enterprise IT: conventional and “nonlinear.”

Those CIOs who have moved early on digitalization, learned the lessons and gotten the scars, have often extended their second-era restructuring to a more comprehensive change.

In these cases, the grow-and-change function has become a more full-fledged digital development function, often reporting in a straight line to P&L/business unit owners, with a dotted line to IT for architectural governance.

Teams are structured around products (not projects) and are multidisciplinary.

Where there are CDOs in place - and Gartner estimates this penetration to be sitting at around 7% of respondents to its study - the role of such individuals is already changing:

  • Only 42% of CDOs are primarily focused on digital marketing.
  • 35% of CDOs have come primarily from a business strategy or marketing background
  • 19% have an IT background
  • 46% have mixed/other backgrounds.
  • 9% are lone advisors and change agents
  • 23% have a small team of analysts and evangelists and/or a budget to run pilots
  • 27% have a substantial team to develop digital services
  • 26% are resourced to develop and run digital services separate from IT.


Gartner Fellow Dave Aron - one of the authors of the report - warns:

"If this transition succeeds and CIOs and their businesses 'tame the digital dragon', massive new value for businesses can be created, and with it, a renewed role and greater credibility for the CIO and the IT organisation.

“However, if the dragon isn't tamed, businesses might fail and the relevance of the IT organisation will almost certainly disappear."

It’s a timely warning - and one I’m sorely tempted to send through to the DWP in the UK.

But I’ve a feeling that they might already be getting the idea…or anyway, 3 of them will be at any rate!


Graphics:  Taming the Digital Dragon: The 2014 CIO Agenda

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