Bridging the organisational synaptic gap

Head of Management Consulting Profession, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Read time: 3 mins
When it comes to digital transformations, organisations have to balance the drive for new innovations with the need to maintain day-to-day services. Linda Harris suggests how to do so
Bridging the organisational synaptic gap blog
Digital transformation prompts organisations to sharpen their focus on developing new ways of thinking and new ways of working to increase the delivery of value. Large organisations are constantly being urged to act more like a start-up to fuel innovation, with the emphasis on speed and agility when it comes to adopting new ideas.
But the reality is that established organisations need to continue to provide consistent service while transforming – acting as a green field site isn’t an option.
Kotter[1] points out the importance of having a dual system; that is a section that can act as an innovation hub, while allowing the rump of the organisation to continue to perform what it needs to do on a day to day basis. That makes sense but there is an assumption that ideas and products are thrown over into the new organisation when the reality is more complex. It seems that there is a need for more transmitters across this organisational synaptic gap.
[1] XLR8:Kotter,J Harvard Business Review press 2014

Tapping into digital dividends

The opportunities afforded by digital transformation, including access and exploitation of more data or the spinning up of micro services on to a cloud platform, require the organisation to revise a whole range of enabling activities that can make innovative solutions a reality. Some of these changes are procedural and some are behavioural; many are complex with multiple stakeholders who won’t necessarily share the same innovative zeal.
New digital services are often regarded as a separate strategy from “business as usual” activities. While new services are developed in line with the transformation strategy, how they align to existing constrained supporting mechanisms can be overlooked. For example, difficulties can occur when organisations try to measure return on investment of microsystems within an established structure of benefits management that was originally designed for more monolithic systems.
Government organisations that are subject to traditional funding cycles and the strictures of detailed business cases need to adapt to developing new value frameworks for products that will enable the measurement of the flow of value, while also satisfying traditional reporting requirements required elsewhere in the organisation.

It's a team game

Making sure that the business or product owner has a role to play in acknowledging enabling and compliance functions such as security and standards is crucial to delivering products successfully into an established organisation. It is easy in the heat of product development to forget about the full breadth of the operating model a new app or service will need to plug into.
It’s not just procedure that can hinder a successful implementation; there are the often unseen barriers that occur in the day to day business. The benefits that new digitally enabled processes bring about can be perceived as threatening a raft of sometimes unseen cultural norms.
For example, it may be that senior managers have for decades equated access to data with the preservation of informal power networks within the organisation. Easier access to more data allows employees to challenge these norms and foster new diverse ways of approaching problems.
Of course, this is good and at the root of the transformation, but it can be threatening to the established overt or covert hierarchy, and change managers need to be alert to these as underlying causes of resistance to change.

Barrier busting

So how do you successfully leap the synaptic gap between the innovators and the core organisation? Sponsorship is of course a key component of change but in this instance we are dealing with the day to day routine of running and working in the organisation. That needs attention to detail that won’t be seen by the sponsors looking for the quick wins that digital transformation has promised them.  
Engaging seniors in finance, security and procurement, where legacy ways of working are still focused at multi-year waterfall implementations, is another important activity. Looking at these functional and enabling value streams is one way of spotting procedural issues early. The cultural question needs to be addressed by fully understanding the prevailing formal and informal networks in and organisation incorporating cultural impact assessments into your revised data strategy is a good start. 
This may be a transitory issue while established processes catch up with agile ways of working but it is a real one that needs attention now.

About the author
Linda Harris is Head of Management Consulting Profession at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence


Recommended reading

  • 10 things we wish we knew before working on digital transformation. Ben Starkie reflects on the lessons learned from working across a variety of digital transformations of all size and scope
  • Bringing data to the party. Caroline Bellamy is on a mission to transform how the UK Ministry of Defence uses data. She tells Mivy James about her 30-year career in industry and why data holds the key to smarter and faster decision-making across Defence
  • Exploring a new role for cyber security in UK government transformation. A new study commissioned by BAE Systems Applied Intelligence has revealed that cybersecurity is both a major driver of IT modernisation and a significant barrier to adoption. Lorna Rea explains how the way forward will require a delicate balancing act - to manage cyber risk effectively, without hindering innovation and collaboration
  • Transformation through innovation. Agile is everywhere for software development but are government organisations getting off to the best possible start? Ian Horlock investigates…
  • Taking transformations forward. Mivy James says that blending technological advances with cultural change is the best fuel for the never-ending journey of digital transformations
  • The Transformer. For a variety of reasons, digital transformation continues to be a step too far for many organisations. Here, Sandy Boxall says that they can be done, pointing to the success of the Royal Navy’s NELSON programme to illustrate his point
Linda Harris Head of Management Consulting Profession, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence 6 December 2021