Sue Johnston

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Sue Johnston is an IBRS advisor who focuses on strategy and governance of private and public enterprise ICT. Sue is able to critique and comment on strategy, ICT investment and innovation management. Sue is also engaged in research on maximising the value of flexible workplaces and women in leadership. Sue has more than 25 years experience as an ICT professional, CIO, business manager and consultant working in diverse organisations in the public and private sector. Sue is passionate about engendering innovation and best practice management in all sized organisations and is a highly regarded advisor and public speaker.

Conclusion: Australian governments at all levels are in the process of rethinking, reimagining and redesigning systems, process and services to improve government service delivery to an ever more demanding community. A number of government jurisdictions have or are adopting a user-centric approach to the design and delivery of a new generation of government services.

User-centric approaches such as User Centred Design puts the user at the heart of design and implementation and focuses on building products and services that are usable and useful through an approach that is inclusive and iterative.

However, simply adopting a fashionable approach under the guise of best practice alone will not provide optimal benefits and often places undue focus on the process at the expense of critical cultural and capability elements. Agencies looking to design and deliver improved government services need to also anticipate and provide for critical success factors such as: what is the most appropriate user approach, what skills and personalities should design teams include and leverage, and what behaviours should user-centric change programs support, encourage and reward to facilitate a successful user-centric program?


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Conclusion: It is widely recognised that public sector organisations do not have the same market drivers as private enterprise to be able to innovate in the same way. Drivers such as competitive forces and profit incentives stimulate and support breakthrough innovation. However, by understanding the elements that are active when breakthrough innovation occurs and reframing it within the context of the government sector, significant benefits and progress can be achieved.


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Conclusion: Organisations source and procure research and advisory services for a range of reasons. The benefits of access to external research and advisory can vary widely from organisation to organisation. Today’s business and technology environment is changing in more radical and rapid ways. Organisations that fully access and embed the information and advice available from research and advisory services can enhance the problem identification and solving process, ensure staff are incorporating a broad range of information into their thinking and systematically include changing environmental information at strategic, tactical and operational decision making levels. Research and advisory can also be used to improve staff analysis and presentation skills. 

Observations: Many Australian organisations recognise the need to procure and access business and ICT research advisory services to ensure that current and emerging trends, issues and opportunities are considered and incorporated into future looking strategies and tactical plans. However, a number of approaches can be incorporated in a more systematic manner within organisations to maximise the benefits of research and advisory.

Business cases & proposals: One of the most common applications of industry research is in the development of business cases and proposals. Business cases may be produced to support a business change which incorporates business process, business information systems and/or a change to technology products or services such as devices, storage, data or processing services.

Business case presentation and proposals should always include a section or notation on how input information was identified, collected and considered as part of the preparation process. Staff responsible for the preparation and presentation of business cases and proposals should be able to discuss the approach and analysis they have undertaken, which provides an opportunity to assess not only the options provided but the comprehensiveness of the analysis to conclude a final list of options.

Watching briefs: Most organisations have strategic governance groups whose mandates include the responsibility of overseeing the development of business improvement investment plans, approving ICT strategic plans that support the strategic objectives of the organisation and oversight of the identification and management of significant risks and issues. Additional responsibility may include the establishment and support of an organisational innovation framework and the consideration of emerging technology and processes that may provide competitive advantage or a significant benefit to the organisation.

Many of these strategic governance groups meet on a monthly basis and agendas can be focused on the prioritised projects, risks and a number of tactical issues. Watching briefs on emerging trends, issues and vendor movements in technology markets which are available from research and advisory can ensure that ongoing visibility is maintained. This differs from the general practice of having a discussion about an issue and then requesting be an architecture or strategy and planning group to prepare a paper on the issue.

Staff presentations: Staff in both business operational areas and within the ICT and technology areas are focused on the day to day issues which are ongoing and can consume all focus and attention. Disruption caused by market maturity and emerging trends is having a significant impact on operational staff. Many are concerned about their future opportunities and how they will have opportunities to develop new skills and capabilities. In addition, staff are sometimes only called on to present when they have a specific issue or project to be communicated. Information gathering, analysis and communication skills are often some of the areas in which management feel that staff are not appropriately skilled and experienced.

Business and ICT research and advisory information can be made available to staff as part of a skills development opportunity. Staff can be encouraged to source the information, consider the implications for the organisation, prepare a short summary presentation and deliver the presentation to an audience.

Such a skills development opportunity is evidenced in encouraging staff to be seekers of knowledge and information and not just recipients. It inspires them to identify and consider emerging trends, market changes and potential issues and opportunities.

In addition, syntheses of information into a cohesive proposition and preparing a presentation to a wider audience are skills that are often lacking but are important and relevant to staff regardless of their position in the organisation and have the benefit of being portable as staff move from position to position.

Staff can be encouraged to collaborate on the preparation and presentation of information derived from research and advisory services. Presentations provide an opportunity to practise communication. In addition, inviting stakeholders from other business areas can encourage relationships and collaboration across the organisation over and above the formal reporting business lines.

Next Steps: Ensure that high utilisation is made of business and ICT research and advisory services. If this has been a challenge in an organisation in the past then a number of actions can assist including:

  • Review strategic governance meeting agendas and terms of reference to ensure that there is an explicit focus and agenda item that includes emerging trends, issues and opportunities and market changes as a watching brief or summary in a proactive approach rather than reacting to items that are raised by attendees.
  • Review the business case and proposal process and procedures within your organisation. Ensure that the method, source and currency of research and advisory information are explicitly stated and are comprehensive in terms of supporting well considered and informed decision making.
  • Incorporate a review of research and advisory information by staff within the ICT area and in collaboration with relevant business areas. Encourage staff to source the information, consider the implications for the organisation, prepare a short summary presentation and deliver the presentation to an audience.

Conclusion: Design thinking is increasingly being utilised by organisations in Australia and globally to create new products and services. Based on the current level of adoption by leading organisations and those investigating design thinking it could be considered the next best practice concept. However, like other best practices, it is the art of applying the technique that reaps benefits, rather than just following the process.

In other words it is the nuances that need to be considered closely and not just the elements that can be seen and touched. Understanding the elements of design thinking and, most importantly, applying the right people using the right approach with the right expectations will ensure that the results match the promise. Empathising with users, customers or consumers is the first step in the process and is critical to the success of all the effort that follows.


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Conclusion: Organisations often look to their competitors for new ideas and innovations and to provide a comparison to their own operations and business direction. Public sector organisations tend to look at other public sector organisations at different levels such as local, state or federal and public sector operations in other countries. Australia generally looks to Canada and the United Kingdom for advances in public sector administration and operations.

However, there are many lessons to be learned from other sectors and industries that could have significant benefit for individual organisations. Failure to identify and harvest the lessons and ideas from other industries will place organisations at a significant disadvantage in the future.


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Conclusion: Organisations building new products and services need new tools and skills to reinvent old business offerings or build completely new business products and services. To be successful, organisations and key decision makers need to be continually assessing the environment for tools and techniques that can be introduced to assist in providing creative thinking and service design activities. Rather than focus on volumes of detailed assessments and documentation the new approach for tools and techniques is creative and visual. Combined with a culture that supports innovation and change, these tools assist organisations to confirm their service and value direction or to identify and build new value for their customers and their organisation. Having staff who have the right skills and the right aptitude to be creative will be critical even if an organisation partners with a specialist business.


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Conclusion: Many organisations looking to transform or innovate their existing business find it difficult to think about it in a completely new way as the past is always present. One way to approach the common strategic planning activity is take the perspective used by start-ups and build a business model for the future which re-evaluates current paradigms. Existing business models can be dissected into key elements and each element can be critically examined and evaluated in terms of its contribution to the desired value proposition.


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Conclusion: Many organisations looking to transform or innovate their existing business find it difficult to think about it in a completely new way as the past is always present. One way to approach the common strategic planning activity is take the perspective used by start-ups and build a business model for the future which re-evaluates current paradigms. Existing business models can be dissected into key elements and each element can be critically examined and evaluated in terms of its contribution to the desired value proposition.


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Conclusion: Progressing digital transformation strategies requires a much more holistic view of service delivery and extends beyond existing business process review and business systems improvement. Designing services that support digital transformation objectives need to look at the end to end service including customer experience. Traditional business analysis activities that captured the requirements of the business process owner and are used to implement business systems will not be adequate.


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Conclusion: To progress digital transformation strategies there are a number of new competencies (such as problem finding and problem framing) that organisations need to recognise and master or partner with specialists to ensure that investments and efforts are aimed at solving the right problems. CIOs and business executives will need to assess the problem finding capabilities within their organisations or risk implementing a better digital solution to a problem that is no longer relevant.


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