The Fifth Digital Experience Government 'Must': Cultural Support
by Dan Katz
What is cultural support?
Cultural support is an integral part of creating a cohesive work environment, and successfully implementing major change in an organization. It lays the groundwork upon which a collaborative, communicative, efficient team can be built. But what exactly is cultural support? I define it as having the right buy-in and the right loud voices advocating for change inside of an organization. In my experience, most government agencies have a lot of silos. There are IT groups responsible for operations, support groups responsible for communications, and public affairs departments whose job it is to get content out to the public as quickly as possible. Often, there’ll also be a front office that is in charge of marketing and messaging. All of these distinct groups must work together to execute on the mission of a government agency: providing information and services to citizens.
What often happens, however, is that these disparate groups go in different directions. There aren’t clearly established avenues for them to communicate through, so the silos stay separate. This means that a really critical success factor in the process of digital transformation is to try to make those communication points stronger, which will in turn help to eliminate those silos. All of the things we’ve been talking about in this series on digital experience government -- the cloud, open technologies, personalization, omnichannel -- these are all dependent on an environment with strong cultural support. They depend on having IT, communications, public affairs, and the front office all working together towards one shared goal.
It usually takes at least one person who is a squeaky wheel to initiate the change that leads to cultural support; somebody who is not afraid to stick their neck out there, or to be a champion for change in the organization. We’ve already seen some great examples of this in government.
Richard Spires, CIO of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Keith Trippie, formerly the director of the ESCO office, were champions for moving DHS to the cloud, and for using an open source platform. They initially encountered a lot of resistance when trying to move to an open source platform, but persevered and were able to rally a team behind them. In doing so, they have been able to demonstrate the value of open source, and even more so, demonstrate how risks can be minimized. Without those two champion voices, those initiatives never would have succeeded.
Why is cultural support critical to successful digital initiatives in government?
Doing digital well is all about connecting with people and creating relationships. So when a government agency is pursuing digital transformation, it’s not about technology as an end to itself, it’s about technology as an enabler to facilitate better relationships between the government and citizens, and between the government and businesses, employees, and other governments.
The bottom line is this: a good culture is made up of lots of people, and is shaped by the way we do things. In order to do better and be better, we need to focus first on improving relationships through better communication and better alignment.
What are some examples of cultural support used in government projects?
Rick Holgate, formerly of ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) saw a lot of value in moving to the cloud, and standardizing with open technology. The inherent speed and agility provided a lot of added value, and is one of the core values that he infuses his organization with. By influencing different people in Information Assurance, security, IT, and communications, they’re all able to see the same themes, and to work towards the same goal. They recognize as a team that they need to do better, be more agile, and be faster in the way that they operate, in order to help their citizens, businesses they work with, and law enforcement. When the opportunity to partner with Acquia arose, Steve was quick to lead his organization in that direction, and has been pleased to find that as an organization they’re able to execute much faster, with greater agility, and in alignment with organizational values and objectives.
How can government organizations best take advantage of cultural support in their projects?
This one is simple. Find a great leader, enlist the services of a great partner, build your organization around an open source foundation like Drupal, and align your team towards the same goals on day one.