Practical ways to approach digital transformation in your enterprise

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“We need a digital strategy, and you have the full support of the executive team to go out and create one.”

Those words are both empowering and daunting to a CIO. When an organization is on the outside looking in, embarking on digital transformation can be overwhelming. Coupled with complex issues like budgetary restrictions and rising consumer expectations, simply getting started can feel like the biggest challenge of all.

The best advice I can give is to eliminate the fear of messing up. Giving yourself permission to make mistakes or get things wrong takes a lot of the tension out of getting started – and the process of fixing your mistakes is the best way to learn what and how technology can truly transform your business. It will also change the way you approach innovation. You might deploy initiatives earlier than you would have done. You may introduce different technologies into the organization. It's this fail fast approach that enables IT leaders to see what works, what doesn't, and where they need to go to improve.

This works especially well when you have a team that is fully prepared to keep pace with the ever-evolving nature of digital technology. When digital transformation is embedded into your organization's DNA, your people will expect technology to play a key role in how they do their jobs.

For the London Borough of Camden, this approach to digital transformation led to a complete overhaul of the IT organization. Rather than dividing our staff into functional departments, i.e. cloud, data centers, app teams, etc., we aligned around four Centers of Excellence. These are fully-formed teams within the IT organization that have all the technology and service delivery capability built in to tackle the four biggest needs we encounter along our digital journey: agile working, business intelligence analytics,  joined-up data,  and customer and channel insights.

Before implementing the Centers of Excellence, IT requests were fragmented and inefficient. You'd end up talking to multiple, siloed teams and initiating a number of separate projects that may or may not have run in parallel. Now, if somebody wants to do flexible working, we’ve got a team that does it. If somebody needs to develop dashboards in business intelligence, we’ve got a team that does it. If we’ve got a team that needs to have an integrated view of the customer and the ability to share data across its boundaries with partners, we’ve got a team that does it. And what I’ve found is that those Centers of Excellence have each created enduring capabilities and developed innovative methods with benefits that extend far wider than the IT organization.

To date, I have not seen a digital change initiative that hasn’t demanded a capability that one or more of our Centers of Excellence could deliver, and the relevance and results of this new structure have not gone unnoticed by the business at large. In fact, I would say that it's gone a long way in creating a stronger partnership between IT and the business. That alliance is necessary for a digital strategy to have an transformative impact on the overall organization.


John Jackson is CIO at Camden Council and Digital Strategy Lead. Over a three year period John has radically redesigned IT into cross cutting centers of excellence and reduced bottom line IT spend by £5m. He has also overseen Camden’s development of government as a platform, delivered using open source products, which have enabled the delivery of multi-million pound savings. Outside of Camden he has contributed to the development of a National Procurement Strategy for IT and is passionate about open systems and open source as the blue print to public sector transformation and citizen focused service delivery.

John Jackson is CEO of the London Grid for Learning. Previously, Jackson served as CIO at Camden Council and Digital Strategy Lead. While serving as Camden Council CIO, John radically redesigned IT into cross cutting centers of excellence and reduced bottom line IT spend by £5m.