Voices from Accenture Public Service

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The 5 lessons below are an extract of an external speech I delivered today to the UK Digital Leaders forum.  I am adding them to my blog in the hope they help anyone needing to prepare similar materials on how to innovate at scale. The lessons are learnt primarily from my client work with DWP, but also from our own innovation story within Accenture.

The first lesson is: get comfortable with uncertainty. At one time, consultants were supposed to stride into boardrooms with answers. Now our job is to collaborate with our clients and other parties to discover the real issues, describe the problem, create ideas, test solutions and then scale and sustain whatever best addresses the problem.

The learning process is never-ending. Humility about not knowing the answer must be mixed with confidence in the ability of the combined team to get to a good answer. As leaders, we have to back ourselves and our teams to go from curiosity to solution and onto curiosity again in a cycle that delivers the outcomes we seek.

A key part of that is finding and challenging orthodoxies.

The example I like to use is the old idea that suitcases need to be carried. Think how the addition of wheels to cases has challenged that orthodoxy.

An example of a commonly held orthodoxy within both the public and private sectors is “customer contact is expensive”. Once AI can reduce the marginal cost of each contact, a whole new range of possibilities open, such as the more in-depth conversations about need as I described earlier.

The second lesson is: the ecosystem is greater than the system. We are not better on our own. Our best work with the DWP and other clients occurs when we work in partnership with them and with other parties.

In September this year, we announced our collaboration with Public, who help foster GovTech start-ups to solve public sector challenges. I am hugely excited about collaborating with Public and the work we will be doing together with the start-ups supported through their GovStart programme. You will hear more about Public from Daniel Korski this afternoon.

For me, our collaboration is about much more than supporting start-ups; it’s about challenging each other; it’s about different cultures coming together to solve problems.

The third lesson is:  innovation at scale and pace needs structure. One-off innovations may be the product of genius or happenstance, but consistent innovation for an organisation needs structure. Within Accenture, we have what we call our Innovation architecture to go from ideas, through stages of maturity to solutions at enterprise scale. At DWP, we support a similar structure with three key levels of input.

For the first level, an Accenture team explore new technologies and any ideas we think could help the DWP. We call this the Greenhouse.

Next – for the second level – we are part of a team working with DWP and other third parties based on what challenge we are exploring. This is the Dojo – a Japanese term for a hall of immersive learning. Under the direction of the Chief Technology Officer, the team explores new technologies that could be of strategic relevance to the DWP and addresses enterprise-wide challenges.

The Dojo is reimagining the future of citizen-first services by investigating emerging technologies while being conscious of privacy-by-design and ethical technology principles.

Some examples are: reducing the cost and friction of making 730 million payments per year, identity and trust for digital services and how to support seamless customer interaction across multiple channels.

Finally – the third level – we are part of another team with DWP and other suppliers known as the Intelligent Automation Garage. This team is wholly focused on solving Operational challenges here and now.

Together these teams help to provide a structured approach to discovering, prototyping and scaling new solutions.

The fourth lesson is: culture is key. The most successful and innovative teams we see – such as the Dojo and the Garage – are defined more by open, collaborative, can-do cultures than by any technology skill-set.

Innovation occurs at the boundaries. Diversity, of thought, skill and many other dimensions creates more boundaries in the positive sense – boundaries at which ideas meet and evolve. The more we collaborate, the better we get.

My first thought when presented with a problem used to be “how do we solve it”. Now, I try to fight that instinct and instead first ask “who should solve it?”. The right mix of people and the right group culture is the starting point for innovation.

And finally – the fifth lesson – speed drives honesty. It is too easy to get caught in endless cycles of proofs of concept and trials that never get to Production and never deliver meaningful change to business outcomes. Shiny objects and new tech are not innovation if they do not solve a business problem or create value for your organisation.

Take small steps, each with a clear goal. You need to be ruthless on whether the idea or solution at hand meets the goal or not. If it does, scale it based on success to the next goal. If it does not, drop it or amend it as appropriate and move on.

It is remarkable how the time and effort required to prototype solutions has dropped over the last decade. Robotic process automation, cloud-native solutions, simple chatbots and applications can be created in a few days to test an idea.

Don’t get me wrong – the laws of physics still apply. Resilient, secure, enterprise-scale solutions evolved through user need and evaluation still take considerable time and effort, but the time it takes to get from proposition to the point of testing an idea with a working solution is reducing all the time.

Are you making the most of that to try new ideas?

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