Welcome to The Week in Digital Transformation, our regular round-up of the most interesting news, case studies and ideas from the world of digital transformation.

This week we’ve got a bevvy of interesting case studies from the public sector, including an East London borough using chatbots to report environmental incidents; the top 10 digital transformation trends for 2019, according to Forbes; and a look at why practices from DevOps can aid in digital transformation.

Forbes’ top 10 digital transformation trends for 2019

Is it too early in the year for 2019 predictions? Apparently not, because this week Forbes published its ‘Top 10 digital transformation trends for 2019’, authored by Daniel Newman, principal analyst of Futurum Research and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group.

Avid blog readers will remember that our recent piece, ‘Where are the key transformative tech trends of 2018?’ incorporated some of Newman’s takes on his own digital transformation predictions for 2018. Now, he’s weighed in on which emerging technologies will shape digital transformation in 2019 – so what’s in store?

Many of Newman’s predictions are natural progressions of the technologies that are already defining digital transformation today, such as cloud computing – Newman predicts that in 2019, businesses will adopt a mixture of public, private and hybrid cloud environments to meet their needs, with “multicloud” being the buzzword of the year. He also forecasts that 5G will be a game-changer and GDPR will hold companies to account, neither of which seem like particularly outlandish predictions.

Others are less cut-and-dried, such as Newman’s prediction that advances in natural language processing (NLP) will bring chatbots back into style, or the idea that 2019 will finally see CEOs begin taking the reins of digital transformation and implementing transformation from the top down, instead of passing the buck to IT departments, marketing, or HR.

Newman writes:

I believe that the CEO will (must) finally step up in 2019, realizing digital transformation isn’t going anywhere. They’ll be making it more of a priority to hire for digital transformation, recognizing the critical nature of building cultures that can change, and the value of reskilling employees and hiring for agility—learning to trust data more than ever before. That’s good news for all companies in 2019.

Digital transformation in the public sector: five game-changing projects

When writing about digital transformation and perusing case studies, it can be easy to fall into the mindset that digital transformation is confined to the private sector – something that only concerns brands and businesses, not governments or health services.

A round-up by Raconteur published this week, ‘Five digital projects changing lives around the world’, presents a different perspective as it highlights five key examples of digital transformation in the public sector that are “opening up services and improving delivery in a wide range of areas worldwide”.

From Vancouver to Moscow, Moray to Estonia, Raconteur’s piece looks at digital projects that are making cities more connected, lightening school bags, and improving academic performance, boosting efficiency and reducing administrative costs. It’s a much-needed reminder of the potential benefits of digital transformation to the public services that billions of people rely on every day.

It may be more difficult for the public sector to undergo digital transformation due to the bureaucracy, red tape and legacy ways of working that inevitably bog it down, to say nothing of the funding shortages that frequently plague public services.

But it’s in projects like the ones highlighted by Raconteur that we can truly see why digital transformation is called transformation – when done right, it can change the workings of everything around it.

From chatbots to paperless councillors: Waltham Forest’s digital transformation

And speaking of digital transformation in the public sector: closer to home, Waltham Forest Council in East London has been making strides towards being more digital and “customer focused”, as part of a digital transformation journey that has been ongoing since 2016.

Public Technology.net reports on the council’s progress this week, including creating a citizen panel of 80 local residents to provide feedback on digital services in development; shifting almost all of its services online, and conducting 75% of its service transactions digitally; and most interestingly, launching chatbots on Facebook and Twitter to help residents report environmental incidents such as fly-tipping and dog fouling.

There’s been more than a little scepticism present in our industry around chatbots and whether they have a viable future: once a much-hyped emerging technology, they failed to catch on in many respects. However, clear use cases for chatbots do exist, and Waltham Forest Council has found them extremely useful in providing a digital channel for residents to report issues, as well as in joining up different touchpoints on an otherwise disconnected chain.

“The contractors that will go and pick up the fly tip now have a tablet… whereas they used to get their jobs in the morning on a piece of paper, and bring that back the following evening,” Paul Neville, Director of Digital and ICT at Waltham Forest Council told Public Technology.

“Now, when they have finished a job, they tick it off [on the tablet] and – because we have integrated that process into our back-end systems – that then pushes a notification through our systems that, if a user has reported via Facebook messenger or Twitter, will go direct to their phone. It’s really neat.”

The piece also explores the steps that the council has taken to make its storage and use of citizen data compliant with the GDPR, its introduction of free public WiFi to town centres across the borough, and its use of digital marketing techniques to promote its digital projects.

College farming campus unveils digital transformation plans

Here’s an unusual case study in digital transformation: a college farm campus in York this week unveiled plans for a £670,000 digital transformation project that will equip it with the latest technology and allow it to educate students on cutting-edge farming techniques.

The Business Desk [registration required] reported that the funding will go towards constructing a digital technology hub at Askham Bryan College’s Westfield Farm, which will feature a high-tech robotic milking parlour and automated calf feeding system, farm information centre, and a new digital classroom.

The transformation project is scheduled to be completed in September 2019, and is expected to develop Westfield Farm’s digital connectivity, as well as training and educating the next generation of farmers using the latest technology and techniques – which will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the industry as Askan Bryan College’s graduates enter their chosen fields.

A woman demonstrates farming equipment in a classroom. Image by Agroscope (available via CC BY-ND 2.0).

One of the foremost benefits of digitalising the farm will be data: for example, collecting and analysing data that compares different milking systems, monitors animal health, and allows the farm to make cost and efficiency savings.

It’s clear that although digital transformation might take radically different forms depending on the industry in question, the core components which underpin it are frequently the same: data, a “test and learn” approach, and an investment into training up the next generation of talent.

The key to digital transformation: the “DevOps Trinity”

Our “key to digital transformation” for this week comes from DevOps – which if you’re not familiar with the term, is a set of practices that aim to unify software development and operation and shorten the time between a change being committed to a system and that change being placed into normal production (while still maintaining quality).

Viktor Farcic of DevOps.com expounds on “why the DevOps Trinity is key for digital transformation”. According to Farcic,

“As digital technology continues to disrupt and transform businesses across industries and around the world, the ability to deliver high-quality software rapidly will make the difference between survival and extinction for many companies. […] Ultimately, successful adoption of DevOps and the process of continuous delivery are likely to determine whether an organization thrives or fails in the digital age.”

In order to carry this out, Farcic believes that organisations need to consider the “DevOps Trinity”: people (a culture of collaboration and shared goals), processes (programmable and dynamic processes, streamlined by automation) and tools.

An illustration of the DevOps process

When it comes to digital transformation, many industries have been borrowing techniques from the world of technology and software development in a bid to introduce a digital way of working, so Farcic’s suggestion fits in well with an existing trend.

In fact, in the marketing industry, ‘marketing ops’ has been developed as a response to DevOps, as an “effective way of keeping focus but also dealing with complexity and delivering operational efficiency” (in the words of Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein).

You can read more about what the concept of marketing ops involves in our previous feature: What exactly is marketing ops?

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