Leadership Ingredients for a Successful, Large-Scale Digital Transformation

Hardik Bhatt, Chief Digital Officer & Acting Secretary, Innovation & Technology, State of Illinois

It is impossible to find a successful business today without efficient technology use. This pervasiveness of technology drives digital transformation across all industries. This, however, is not easy. It requires a clear and compelling vision, realistic strategic planning and efficient, relentless execution.

State of Illinois, for example, is undergoing a 4-year digital transformation. Mid-project, the State has already moved up from bottom 4th to top 3rd of all US states in national digital rankings.

Illinois has a $68 billion annual budget, with 60,000 employees. Digital transformation for an organization of any scale begins from the CEO’s vision and permeates through the rank and file employees. Businessman-turned-Governor Bruce Rauner, as the CEO of the state, had a very clear mandate for his leadership team: “I want to provide a 21st century enterprise for our customers and make Illinois efficient, accessible, competitive and compassionate.”

A successful digital transformation has 6 key principles:

1. Building and Articulating Your Goal and Strategy in Simple Terms

Transformations start with questions, not answers. Taking those questions-and adapting based on learnings-to the stakeholders for meaningful discovery and discussion means building the right transformation plan. Listening during the first 30 days helped me build a clear strategy and get buy-in from key stakeholders.

A vision becomes believable, and therefore achievable, with a clear strategy, winning team, a borderless culture and a cadence of quick wins

Everyone needed better technology that drove better outcomes. Our oldest operational technology was built in 1974. We had a 45-year journey to make in Governor’s 4 year term. “45-in-4” became our guiding principle. A crisp and compelling sound bite, that meant that the pace of change was equally important as the change itself. With that vision in place, we divided the journey into 3 parts that were also easy to understand and communicate-Smart IT, Smart Government and Smart State.

We merged 38 IT silos into a unified entity, the new Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT). Apart from managing $900 Million of annual technology spend, DoIT now runs a 6,000 customer fiber services P&L. And we are running DoIT like a business, with an advisory board of directors, operational sub-committees, activity and outcome-based KPIs, scorecards for leadership and regular Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs). Everything is divided into 75-day sprints and horizontal and vertical organizations are aligned through these sprints driving agility throughout the organization.

The first enterprise CISO for the State focused on building a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy while encrypting 97 percent of unsecured data at-rest.

2. Creating and Empowering a Winning Team

You need the right talent to translate a vision into reality. For us, internal talent brought the necessary institutional knowledge and kept us from stepping on landmines. External talent brought fresh ideas and a certain naivety about the organizational constraints, which has been important for a 200-year old organization.

To find high potential internal talent, we empowered “innovation at the edges.” People with great ideas, energy and dedication rose to the top. Our digital transformation has been continuously communicated through multiple channels. Hungry to help, we found great excellent private sector talent to join our team.

A winning team needs investment in individuals. We introduced onboarding programs, leadership development programs, competency centers and regular team building exercises. We identify, enable and empower leaders.

3. Enabling a Sustainable, Borderless Culture

But silos slow down a winning team. In our interconnected world, ideas, news, commerce, economic turbulence and even pandemics spread easily. People, however, are not nearly as frictionless. We remain tribal and silos still exist.

As part of overall digital transformation, it was important to break down organizational borders, signal change and redesign culture in a way that sustains over time. We created 12 different types of communities, in a phased approach, over a year to:

* Collaborate: accelerate transformation and consolidation,

* Externalize: get fresh ideas, and

* Innovate: ignite innovation

Competency centers, working groups, centers of excellence, innovation center, etc. broke internal silos. Strategic advisory boards, entrepreneur showcases, university partnerships, etc. broke external silos.

4. Keeping the Customer at the Center

While technology is pervasive, it is only as good as its usefulness to customers. Based on customer feedback, we took three actions:

* Enabling innovation at the edges: front line employees working closest with customers are key to identifying pain points and bringing innovation. An internal innovation awards process was established. Top 5 internal innovations are submitted to external innovation awards.

* Applying design research methodology: We work with the local Design Institute to work with us on redesigning our customer service using Design methodology before building technology for that.

* Enabling a data-driven government: the foundation for digital transformation is data. Governments own massive amounts of it. We unlocked its potential. In just a few months, 19 agencies have signed an enterprise data sharing agreement and the statewide analytics center of excellence is enabling decision making via 360 degree customer views and predictive analytics, while providing common tools for business intelligence.

5. Jump Starting and Demonstrating Continuous Wins

It is crucial for a digital transformation leader to have a clear vision and plan for the long term, and deliver positive action and quick wins in the short term. With today’s technology, parallel paths can be run very deliberately. We built momentum through quick wins using mobile technology and reducing contract cycles. In 24 months, our mobile interactions grew from 1 percent to 32 percent-with over 37 new apps, built on a standard framework.

6. Keeping an Eye on the Future

While transforming through Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud, we worked on IoT and Blockchain in parallel.

An IoT-based Smarter State program put Illinois on top as the only state with a vision and roadmap to become a smarter state. It is transforming technology, regulatory and leadership platforms. Partnerships-Vertically with cities and the federal government, horizontally with internal state agencies, externally with the industry and academia, nationally with the National Governors’ Association and internationally with the Indian State of Telangana-are allowing us to manage this complex, multi-stakeholder engagement.

A three-pronged approach to Blockchain has established Illinois as a leading state in this space and soon we will see some proofs of concept in practice.

In summary, a vision becomes believable, and therefore achievable, with a clear strategy, winning team, a borderless culture and a cadence of quick wins. Execution of this strategy requires bias for decisive action, and the ability to execute in the short term while keeping focus on building a digital organization in the long term. We have the right team leading our arduous, perilous and ultimately rewarding transformation journey.


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