The technology probably doesn’t matter

Now I know, because I have seen lots of them them: there are some shockingly bad bits of tech in the public sector, and some of the really bad ones can scupper an organization’s ability to do anything transformative. 99% of the time, the technology isn’t the thing that is holding an organisation back. It’s the culture, but that doesn’t stop people spending lots of money on the tech, and ignoring the real problem.

You only need look at one of the online localgov PR outflows for a day or two and you will see story after story about how council x is saving/transforming/improving its services by £millions using technology portal/platform/system y. Reading the story you will get lots of promising but vague information about what the system does, and how much the council is going to (maybe) save by using it.

If you dig deeper into any of these ‘stories’, there is one thing you probably won’t see: actual realised savings or measured improvements. Now, there are many reasons for this, mainly to do with how people don’t actually analyze or measure things properly, but I’m not going to get sidetracked by that (today).

The real problem is that all of these stories peddle the falsehood that the technology is the saviour, and it’s not. Most organisations already have the technology that, if used properly, could make them their real savings. They are just not doing it, either because:

  • the transformation isn’t in the interests of the owners of the system;
  • the system is hidden behind information firewalls either in ICT or with a supplier; or
  • the people with the power to realise the changes don’t have any authority.
    On the rare occasions where the technology is, in fact, the problem, all of the above will still be true once the shiny new system is installed.

I have seen organisations go out to tender for massive system replacements, in the hope of saving money, when they didn’t actually have a full list of what the existing system did. Ignoring the basics just means you end up buying a different pile of bits that still don’t do what you want - because you can’t tell them what it is that you do want.

It’s not that changing technology can’t be part of a wider improvement, but when a supplier/council start spouting about how new system x is amazing, they have probably missed the point and spent lots of money doing it.