Solace Blog

Digital Leadership – it starts by simply talking about it!

By Matt Prosser, Chief Executive, Dorset Councils Partnership and Solace Spokesperson on Digital Leadership

So I’ve taken on this Digital Leadership role from the effervescent Martin Reeves, and thought I should put finger (s!) to keyboard and develop a rather eloquent piece about Digital Leadership…to inspire and demonstrate what a tech-savvy digital leader I am and you can be! I do trust irony is not lost in the printed form, even if viewed on-line. Digital Leadership, as I am often heard to say, is not about being a technical expert, but is about our leadership role within the digital age.


Except as I sit here on the train from the South West up to London I am reminded of the fragility of our digital support infrastructure, no signal on my mobile phone (however, smart it is it won’t make calls without a network) and the Wi-Fi and 3G, let alone 4G, are currently non-existent. For many of our businesses and communities this is a daily reality and we, as public sector leaders, need to be pushing Government and the multiple delivery agencies to do more, and faster, to resolve this as we get left behind in the UK.

No doubt many of us as leaders will be reading this SOLACE Blog on the latest smartphone or tablet, although I am sure some of us will remember in the not too distant past our PA’s printing out ‘important’ emails for us to read. As leaders we will still have those within our organisations who shun ‘digital technology’, these may be managers (some senior), staff or elected members. As Leaders who are seeking to transform our organisations, I would challenge that this is not acceptable.  At a recent Eduserve Executive Briefing Board we spoke about the fact that we wouldn’t think it acceptable for a manager in our teams to say, “I don’t understand budgeting so I’ll leave that to finance”, but it appears almost acceptable for many of us as leaders to state, “I don’t understand IT/tech/digital, I have a team for that.”  If we want to effect real cultural change then we need to lead in this space, ensuring we have enough understanding to do so.

I am not suggesting that we need to be at the forefront of cutting edge A.I. development, no doubt some of us will be, but we should be looking at how we use the vast amounts of data that we have about our residents/customers in a better way. Digital solutions can help this, delivering better service outcomes at a reduced cost by helping forecast customer needs (predictive technology) in advance allowing solutions to be put in place proactively and not reactively – preventing cost within total public sector budgets increasing.

And I am also not advocating that as leaders, we should have the most followed twitter account and a prolific presence on social media, we can leave that to our teenagers or @realdonaldtrump, but we should understand social media and the power it can have for our organisations, perhaps demonstrate we at least know what twitter is, occasionally use the internal Yamma site or Skype for business. Here in Dorset the CEX’s group even has a WhatsApp group!

If we expect customers to digitally self-serve we need to make sure that the experience is a good one and that starts with our staff. If our staff, including ourselves, do not actively use digital solutions, why should we expect them to positively advocate these solutions for our customers? Part of our Digital Leadership role is to help our staff engage with the agenda before expecting them to ‘sell’ this to our residents. How often have we been in a bank or Post Office and had a clerk behind the desk try half-heartedly to sell us insurance?  We laugh but in reality, we need our staff to persuade our residents (customers) to self-serve because we know it reduces our costs (dramatically) and empowers them in other areas of their lives – so how much have we invested in staff to engage with this positively. As local authorities, we have so much to gain from digital transformation in terms of delivering better services to our residents, at a lower cost.

Our private sector colleagues, as we heard from Lloyds Bank at the SOLACE conference in Gateshead, are embracing digital solutions, supporting this with community champions, staff who go into the community to help people with no or few digital skills to get on-line, and then take control by being able to self-serve. We can benefit from the ‘nudge’ work private sector organisations have invested in. They are driving this because it makes commercial sense, so can it have benefits for us? Of course, it can. If nothing else, it can make services better and reduce costs, freeing up resources to deal with the hard to reach and vulnerable whose problems will not be solved by digital solutions alone.  I would argue that the majority of our customers are digitally connected, in one way or another, and so we should design services based on the needs of the majority and not the minority. By doing so, we will free up capacity to work with the few who cannot benefit from digital solutions.

Our challenge is to lead this agenda, and to do so we need to have, enough, understanding to demonstrate that leadership, setting the cultural direction for our organisations. As part of SOLACE Digital Leadership priority, we will be looking to help you navigate the plethora of digital organisations and ideas out there to help you, whether you act like you’re a Digital Native or in reality are a Digital Immigrant – and that starts by simply talking about it!

Matt Prosser
Chief Executive
Dorset Councils Partnership
Twitter: @mattprosserceo
Email: Mprosser@dorset.gov.uk