Successful and experienced director, Duncan Enright sat down with us to speak about digital transformation and how this wave of robotics and AI is affecting the Local Government sector. With over 25 years of experience working within the public sector, Duncan has worked senior positions within both the NHS and more recently West Oxfordshire District Council.
In the following interview, we discussed the reasons some organisations are reluctant to embrace digital transformation, how to overcome this and the key benefits that these methods bring to Local Government Councils.
Question 1 – Why do you think organisations are reluctant to use digital transformation programs?
“A good question. This is a huge opportunity which has opened up in front of us in all areas of endeavor and that includes Local Government, as a leader of a political group I’m also involved in I have been involved in the Health Service quite substantially and I’m working at the moment on some clinical decision support software as well. This whole area of digitization offers all sorts of new opportunities, but it’s rarely in my experience the technology itself, which causes a block, nor to be honest, is it those traditional things like business processes or even strategy – people know how to do those people get MBAs in doing that kind of stuff. What they don’t really get trained to do properly is to think about how the culture of their organization and the behaviours within it have to change, in order to enable transformation and actually digital transformation is what we’re talking about here but any kind of major change requires leaders who can think very clearly about how they’re behaving, the climate they’re creating within an organization, how the climate influences the culture and how people behave towards each other. In Leadershape we’re a leadership development organization and we pick up that piece in particular because it’s very underdeveloped. How do leaders behave? How do leaders create a vision and sustain a climate in their organization which is that allows innovation, digital transformation, other major change to happen while remaining focused on that core purpose, and by while also being very true to their own values?
We [Leadershape] believe in transpersonal organization which is about using intelligence. Most of our leaders are pretty bright people, you don’t get to be a leader usually without having to go through some sort of basic filtering for being smart enough to do it, but you also have to have emotional intelligence, that means understanding your own feelings very importantly, being able to understand the feelings of others, also how to manage other people’s emotions, and how as well to manage your own. So, that emotional intelligence is very important. We also tack on to that what some people call spiritual intelligence, but really is talking about what drives you, what your inner drivers are, aligning your own values with those of the organization in which you work, and that’s very important too. If you can combine all of these, you can think beyond the ego, beyond your own self, even beyond your own immediate organizational team, to think about all stakeholders and that makes a big difference as to how effective you can be in creating the right climate for digital transformation.”
Question 2 – Why have many healthcare providers already gone forward with digital transformation and what benefits are they already seeing?
“I’d like to talk about the potential benefits for healthcare actually. I think that’s probably one of the most useful things to do, and it would seem at the moment that most people are trying to sell convenience from the point of view of the citizen, or the patient, or they the person using healthcare and that is a really important one, but actually the potential is to change something which is mass produced – the Henry Ford approach to health care in which a service or a system is set out to provide a series of interventions through your life, when you hit periods of ill health. Instead, looking at a patient-centered or person-centered approach to health care, in which your own knowledge about your own health is enriched, that clinicians and others in the health care system have a really good picture of your overall health, and can give you prompts and ideas and guidance in how to manage your health well and during periods of ill health can give you extremely appropriate treatment which matches again your own lifestyle, your own personal attributes. One example which is in the news at the moment is that you can have personalized medicine which matches your genome. It can make a match to your own physiological makeup in a way that was never possible previously, and so, for example, this is being used at the moment to reduce the side effects of things like chemotherapy, but in future things like immunotherapy will also provide some new treatment mechanisms, which again are very much tailored to the individual and can help in in curing or managing long term conditions We may, in fact, in our lifetime begin to see things like cancer as a long-term condition more akin to high blood pressure, than a death sentence, so there are great possibilities.
There are also great possibilities about the way that healthcare is organized so leaders within the National Health Service in the UK are under extreme pressure to manage the performance of their organizations and it’s all about activity measures, and in the future, I think it will be possible to manage an organization looking at outcomes far more, looking at the population health of the people that you’re looking after, and begin to really target resources where you know that they’re going to be most effective in keeping people healthy. That’s a very different approach, but it will only happen if the leaders have a vision: if they understand that their core purpose is to keep people well, not to treat people well when they’re poorly. It also means that they need to reach out across their whole organization and that new skill sets have brought to bear on national health which would include the National Health Service. It is already a major consumer of extremely advanced technology, but it also still uses old stuff. The story goes that they’re still the largest purchasers of fax machines and dictation machine so there’s a long way to go for some parts of the health service. We can see great examples here in Britain, and there are examples elsewhere in the world about how healthcare can change utterly. It can become much more about an individual life, well-lived in good health, with the support of a truly enabled and digitally transformed National Health Service.”
Question 3 – What aspect of digital transformation do you think has the ability to cause the biggest changes to Local Government and why?
“That’s hard isn’t it? We’ve seen major digital disruption have an impact on the outcomes of Elections, and referendums recently across the world, and it’s possibly just getting an understanding of how some of these new digitally-driven methods of communication work. Actually, that is half right – I think the biggest disruption is the expectations it builds up in consumers of Local Government services. It means that the people I represent here in Witney and West Oxfordshire are using digital technology in all sorts of areas of their lives very well at the moment, and they have a high expectation that Local Government will be able to respond to that as well and will be able to offer convenient, and actually quite transformative or innovative new services by using digital technology. It’s not yet the case. There are small changes – you can pay your parking fines online now, but that’s not very helpful and it’s not transformative in the sense that it’s still a transaction, which is a very traditional one. It’s not a new service.
In fact, digital technology often seems to be used to catch more people committing traffic offences and then put money into government coffers in a more efficient way, and that’s not terribly transformative.
It’s certainly not getting to the guts of what digital transformation can offer, but I do think those expectations – the fact that more and more citizens have expectations I think of government and particularly Local Government – which they’re currently not seeing met; the opportunity though is to transform not just the way that Local Government does business – memos are out and emails are in – so there are some efficiencies you can drive through better communication through digital technology, but it’s also about rethinking the role of Local Government. There’s a possibility for Local Government to reimagine itself again, going back to core purpose, as the champion of collective and cooperative enterprise, within their community. It becomes an enabling organization not just a delivery organization, so that a Council can be seen as a place where people can come in order to put together their own efforts, to support their community, rather than just a place to lobby for somebody else to do something for them. It would be terrific to think that in 10 years time, West Oxfordshire District Council (where I am a counsellor) will be the convening place, will be an enabler for communities to self-organize, to organize their own services, as well as still delivering services. There’s no question that that will go away. It won’t, people need bins, collecting people need social care, these things will continue, but there may be innovative new services, either provided directly by the Council, but more likely, the Council will be acting as the convener, bringing people together and using its relationships in other authorities, perhaps the health service, police, other Councillors, national government and international network, using all of those relationships and their convening power to allow citizens to organize their own new services, and to give them a sense of liberation. Also, to make the services that we provide not necessarily so one-size-fits-all but, also to personalize them in the same way, as we were talking about the National Health Service being personalised, I think you can offer personalized services in Local Government.
You might be able to start having transport schemes which recognize an individual’s transport needs, rather than just congestion charges for everybody, or bus passes for certain people or parking fines for particular behaviours. You can begin to be much more creative in the kind of offer that you can give to people, and the Council could respond to individual transport needs in a different way. We may no longer own cars in a fairly short time, particularly with climate change affecting the way that cars are produced, and instead, we may have a Council-brokered car leasing scheme where the Council uses its convening power and strength, to be able to offer personalized transport solutions to families and individuals.”
Question 4 – What are the key benefits for Local Councils who are already using robotics and AI?
“It’s about gaining that better understanding of how the population that they serve. What are the kind of services that they need? So, if you can use those new technologies to gather more information with permission, you can do a great deal more to respond to individual needs, as opposed to having a one-size-fits-all set of services? What do I mean? Well, we do suffer from things like fly-tipping, but also we have an overarching issue of sustainability in the longer term, so waste reduction, reuse, recycling, all of those issues are incredibly important and we don’t yet have a way easily of influencing the waste producers as much as we might. In helping the pretty willing citizenship – most people are very keen to reduce waste- we don’t have a really good way of informing them, or helping them to change their buying behavior, or lifestyle in order to enable that reduction and recycling to happen more effectively. But, with gathering better information about the kind of waste we’re collecting, we can target the most people are producing that waste. We can work with those producers to reduce the amount that they do, we can also work with the citizens and people we represent to help them understand the challenge, and we could easily be into a virtuous circle of reduction in waste, and in particular things like un-recyclable waste, flyaway plastics and the like, very quickly if we have good information on which to base the decisions we make, and can turn that as well into a more personalized service.”
Question 5 – What major changes do you think we will see regarding robotics and AI within Local Government?
“Over the next 10 years or certainly in twenty-five, we need to be using digital technology to personalize services first of all. Secondly, to respond to the digital savvy citizens who want to interact conveniently, and in a way which suits them. Thirdly, we need to make sure that we maintain our focus on those who don’t wish to interact in that way, and so that our services get better and better in terms of face-to-face interactions, and that we don’t lose sight of that is a really important part of what we do.
Actually, Local Government is sometimes at its best, compared to some of the National Government services, in that face-to-face interaction. We run people services for people, that’s what Local Government does, and we need to keep that focus as well as responding to the digital savvy.
The other thing that we need to use digital transformation to do is to change our role in society, from being just a service provider, so Local Government as a service provider must continue and must get better and digital transformation can help with that, but it can also allow us to become much more of a champion for community aspirations, for people wanting to do things in the community. We can become a really powerful and potent partner for the third sector, in delivering services. We can also give individuals far more power over their own lives, and ability to work closely with their neighbors to influence their lives. We can address some of the massive challenges out there. Number one has to be climate change, we know we’ve only got a short window before we are into irreversible climate change, which will have all sorts of terrible effects and in our area one of the worst is flooding.
We also have other challenges, one of them is inequality. We know that inequality is driving all sorts of rifts in society, and it’s creating poverty, and poverty of aspiration, and real anguish and suffering in all of our towns, and villages and cities. It’s not something that’s particularly – there is no part of our country, or the world which wouldn’t benefit from reducing inequality, and if we have better information and if the role of the Council changes, so that we become the champion for our communities and our citizens then we can begin to address some of the evils caused by inequality and start closing the gap so that we have a much more equal society. That means equal in terms of access to resources and services, family and household incomes, access to housing, but also access to power, access so that people are able to have power and control over their own lives. I think digital transformation has great potential, just allowing the Government to (with permission) know more about the area where they serve, and to provide a different service – this champion of the people.”