Mantra for a digital state of mind

By on 15/05/2024 | Updated on 16/05/2024
Image: Pixabay

Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions, discusses how to create a mindset for digital transformation.

Can technology truly be the equaliser of people? I think about this constantly. If there was a way that we could combat digital poverty – which is no small ask – then technology has the potential to level the playing field by giving everyone equal access to information and assistance when facing problems that they need to resolve.

We have a huge responsibility to ensure that technology is used in the right way that promotes equality and sustainability for all.

Being digital by definition, we know the power tech can have in driving positive change, but we must also be mindful of when and where technology should be used, and of the potential consequences for those who may not have access to it or who may struggle to use it effectively.

I want to create a ‘mantra’ to guide me in moments of doubt, a way to keep me on track when the world is swirling around me. I came up with this phrase:

“Human-Centred, Future Focused: We place humans at the heart of our digital-first transformation to build a future-focused department that is equipped to meet evolving needs. We are addressing legacy issues related to people, technology, policy, and data, to boost productivity and efficiency, and in turn deliver more accurate and enhanced experiences for every colleague and citizen.”

This statement, which I am still working to perfect, is becoming my personal mantra and my own reason for being a digital leader. It’s my reminder to keep the focus on people and the future, rather than getting lost in the technical aspects of digital change. Inspired by the origins of the word mantra from Hinduism and Buddhism, I want this statement to spark a sense of purpose and passion within me, and to serve as a guiding light when the going gets tough. I want it to be my chorus, the phrase I sing when I celebrate successes and milestones along the way.

‘And world thinking’

In 2024 we still find ourselves as digital leaders ‘selling’ what we can do to some elements of our business. Why is that?

 As a digital leader and transformation agent, I often find myself in the position of convincing leaders that we have the solutions to the problems they face, and that collaboration is the key to making sense of complex issues. I’m still searching for a way to make sure digital people are ‘number one’ on speed dial when our business is presented with another new problem. I am hopeful that by living out my mantra, placing humans at the heart of our digital first approach, and by collaborating, we will help to make our expertise stick in the minds of our business leaders.

 What we do is hard isn’t it? We are trying to create a point of cohesion for business change, and sometimes the resistance is difficult to comprehend. I have spoken before about the natural positive bias of digital professionals, and the dangers it can bring, and I still acknowledge this. However, there are times we need to use this bias to convince business leaders that giving our stuff a go is worthwhile. During my time as CIO of the Irish healthcare system we tried to argue to government that digital capabilities should be integrated into the business case and building design. Digital infrastructure should be considered essential to new hospital construction, like water, heating, and lighting (and now WiFi?)

Read more: ‘Digital is not a cost centre’: Five minutes with Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions

I recently heard this short story (in a sentence): “Fishing in a barrel with a rod is easy, but fishing in the sea, off a trawler, with the same rod is hard…”

Just as fishing in a barrel with a rod is easy, making business change using digital tools in a limited environment is easy. However, just as fishing in the sea with the same rod is more challenging, using the same digital tools in a larger environment, like in business transformation, is far more complex. For us to help the business on their transformation journey, and to ensure technology is available as an equaliser for people, we must apply design, architecture, strategy, and business change to adapt the ‘rod’ into the tools a trawler needs so they are equipped to navigate challenges and understand the opportunities digital can bring.

Another phrase I heard last week was, ‘Old world thinking vs And world thinking’.

I interpreted this as a movement away from ‘but’ as a word, to start to use ‘and’ as a way of trying to add the answer to our response not the reason to not do something. I want my mantra to give me the answer to this every time I stall in my own promise to stick with ‘and’ without falling into ‘but’.

Pervasive innovation

New technologies – yes, I guess I mean generative AI (sorry) – are undoubtedly exciting, and it’s easy to get caught up in the possibilities they present. I know I get caught up in the art of the possible, but it’s crucial that we don’t lose sight of the need to bring everyone on this journey.

The constant demand for new is great to harness, will it ever go back to ‘undimmed’ once it has started? I’m not sure I want it to. Something I do want though is for it to be pervasive across the entire business and not limited to some areas, and non-existent in others. The imbalance that this can cause is, maybe, harder than having no excitement and engagement at all. To go back to our trawler analogy, we need all boats to move at the same speed, which can’t be the pace of the slowest, but letting the fastest boats out alone will require a resource commitment above and beyond what we can afford.

So, there you go, mantra creation, questioning and evolution live in a blog. I believe what we do in digital can help to create a more equitable society for all. And having tested my mantra through questioning and evolution, I still believe in it:

“Human-Centred, Future Focused: We place humans at the heart of our digital-first transformation to build a future-focused department that is equipped to meet evolving needs. We are addressing legacy issues related to people, technology, policy, and data, to boost productivity and efficiency, and in turn deliver more accurate and enhanced experiences for every colleague and citizen.”

What do you think? As always. I would love to hear your views and thoughts on this…

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About Richard Corbridge

Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions,

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