Leading digital transformation

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels
June 15, 2021
Digital & technology

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Across the public, private and voluntary sectors, leaders often well understand how their organisations’ capabilities and working methods must evolve to meet people’s needs.

The tricky bit is making the change: planning and implementing reforms is a difficult and risky process, and many change programmes fail. Government faces a particular set of challenges here, with diffused accountabilities, political pressures and media scrutiny creating constraints and exacerbating complexity. And digital projects have their own unique needs: ‘Agile’ digital methodologies, for example, sit awkwardly with established systems of planning, budgeting, risk management and governance.

Yet during the pandemic, many governments have made rapid progress in implementing reforms – building new services and moving to remote working, for example. In the face of crisis, people’s risk appetites grew, onerous processes were set aside, and finance departments loosened their purse strings.

As the crisis eases, further changes will be required: governments must, for example, rebuild systems to ensure value for money, manage risk and provide accountability in public spending. But that need not mean a return to ‘business as usual’: at this Global Government Forum webinar, senior civil servants and external experts explored the leadership, digital and project management skills and techniques required to successfully deliver digital change programmes over the years to come.

How, for example, can iterative digital methodologies be squared with civil service processes? How can civil servants be encouraged and supported to take the well-judged risks essential to innovation? Above all, how can leaders implement digital reforms in ways that both meet their responsibilities to taxpayers, citizens and elected leaders, while retaining the pace of change attained during the pandemic?


Webinar chair: Siobhan Benita, former UK senior civil servant

Siobhan Benita was a senior civil servant with over 15 years’ Whitehall experience. She worked in many of the major delivery departments, including Transport, Environment, Health and Local Government. She also had senior roles at the heart of Government in the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, including supporting the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell to lead work on Civil Service reform and strategy. Siobhan left the Civil Service to run as an independent candidate in the Mayor of London election. She subsequently joined her alma mater, Warwick University as Chief Strategy Officer of Warwick in London and Co-Director of the Warwick Policy Lab.

Alison Pritchard, Deputy National Statistician – Data Capability, Office for National Statistics, United Kingdom

Alison is leading the transformation in data usage which will see ever more integrated data put to effective and safe use across the private and public sectors. She ensures ONS has the right technology and skills to meet its ambitious goals in data analytics and data science and champions safe and secure data sharing for the public good in ONS and beyond. Most recently Alison was Director General of the Government Digital Service leading the organisation through a busy and critical period. And before that, she was Director of Transformation at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

She began her Civil Service career in 1987. She has worked across a range of departments including the Ministry of Defence, HM Treasury, Cabinet Office, Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Her career has seen her enjoy a varied and interesting range of roles, including: spending five years in Saudi Arabia with a UK defence programme; leading the independent review of Royal Family and ministerial air travel; and being responsible for gambling and the National Lottery.

Outside government, Alison has experience as Head of Operations for an IT engineering business and on secondment to the third sector as Director of Programmes for a multi-faith research body supporting counter-radicalisation.

Dr Vik Pant, Chief Scientist and Chief Science Advisor, Natural Resources Canada

Vik is responsible for providing strategic direction to build capacity within NRCan’s scientific community, promoting a departmental vision for S&T and assessment of future needs. This involves leadership in developing and advancing S&T priorities, providing strategic policy advice on horizontal science issues and opportunities to ensure strong linkages between science and policy communities, and promoting effective engagement of S&T activities. Vik is responsible for accelerating the creative application of innovative digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence, to enhance NRCan’s ability to conduct research and analysis, as well as provide evidence-based policy advice that is supported by advanced analytical techniques. Vik works with counterparts from other science-based organizations to ensure that the management of federal policy and research activities support and align with Government of Canada priorities.

Vik earned a doctorate from the Faculty of Information (iSchool) in the University of Toronto, a master’s degree in business administration with distinction from the University of London, and a master’s degree in information technology from Harvard University, where he received the Dean’s List Academic Achievement Award.

His research, featured in numerous peer-reviewed journals and refereed international conferences, focuses on the conceptual modelling of strategic coopetition in complex multi-agent systems. Vik joined NRCan from the MaRS Discovery District, a technology start-up accelerator in Toronto, where he was a Senior Technical Advisor of Applied Artificial Intelligence. Prior to that, he held progressively strategic positions in leading software enterprises including Oracle, SAP and Open Text.

Craig Eblett, DWP Digital Delivery Director, Department for Work and Pensions, United Kingdom

Craig has over 35 years’ experience in Digital and Change delivery, within the private and public sector. Since joining the Civil Service in 2002, Craig has held a number of senior roles within DWP and Cabinet Office. Craig’s career with DWP has predominantly been in Digital; in October 2019 he took on the role of Director for Digital Delivery Shared Platforms. Craig is also the Sponsoring Director for Digital Engineering and leading on building reusable application components as part of the DWP strategy to digitally transform the organisation.

Scott Adams, UK Government Lead, Palantir Technologies

Physicist turned data scientist and engineer, Scott Adams now oversees Palantir’s growth and software implementations across UK government. At Palantir, Scott has led technology teams powering digital transformation programmes across many of Europe’s largest private and public sector organisations, and overseen some of the largest data integration projects to have taken place within UK Central Government and Healthcare in recent years. Scott’s personal mission is influenced by the Effective Altruism philosophy, and a drive to maximise positive social impact through his work.

Seong Ju Park, Deputy Director, Digital Government Cooperation Division, Ministry of the Interior and Safety, Republic of Korea

Seong Ju has been working with governments and international organizations around the world to facilitate digital government innovation to build better digital society since joining the Ministry of the Interior and Safety in 2016. She is in charge of multilateral cooperation on digital government, facilitating MOIS’s cooperation with organizations including OECD, Digital Nations, UNDESA.