Through the Better Public Services programme, two areas have been identified as being critical to improving access to and delivery of better outcomes for New Zealanders – digital and data . As a provider of leadership development and because LDC recognises that digital strategy is as much about people as it is about technology, the question this article focuses on is: What is the relationship between ‘digital’, ‘data’ and ‘leadership performance’?

In ‘Predictions for 2017: Everything is becoming digital’ (Bersin, 2016), Bersin by Deloitte observes there has been a shift in the skills required of leaders, as the knowledge and experience needed to implement digital projects (mobile design, analytics, online experience strategies) moves well beyond the capacity of one or two tech-savvy team members.

Leaders we talked with suggest that rather than failing because of a lack of technical ability, projects are more likely to fail because of a breakdown in communication or misaligned expectations. In other words, a project will only ever be as good as the clear and meaningful communication between the people involved in its design and implementation.

The questions then become: Which current and emerging leaders are working together to deliver government digital transformation strategies? What behaviours and skills are demonstrated (and valued) in the State sector to allow for these new ways of working?

We spoke with Tim Occleshaw, Government Chief Technology Officer (GCTO) at Department of Internal Affairs. Tim and his team play a critical role in managing a wide-ranging transformation in how citizens experience all government online services.

Tim talked to us about new business models that have resulted from technology and people connectivity and what this means for how we lead digital transformation.

“Digital business models present different opportunities to service delivery, and they are changing the way people engage, interact and transact with products and services,” Tim said. “New Zealanders have a high level of digital propensity and commonly engage digitally with each other. Their expectations are changing and, as we re-imagine government services, then collaboration and co-creation with our own team members and with broader partners will become key to delivering public value.” Tim’s perspective helps clarify why digital leadership is so critical to business transformation.

As Tim explained, “Digital leadership is a strategic mind-set and a set of behaviours that brings together a coalition of skill, influence and vision to collaboratively start the first wave of transformation.”

Such a transformation is easier said than done, but leaders can prepare the way for this shift in themselves and their teams. Here are some pointers on how to achieve the change:

  • Develop digital competencies.
  • Reverse mentor with a digital native.
  • Promote collaborative examples and participate in collaborative networks.
  • Understand how technology is transforming society and apply the impacts of this transformation to your organisation and customers.

When thinking about the future and the capabilities we will need in our work environment, it is important to consider the past and identify what is important to retain and what changes to ingrain. Toward the end of 2016, we spoke with Anna Pethig, Manager, Web and Publications at the Ministry of Health. Anna has been with the Ministry of Health for more than 20 years and describes a significant shift in thinking within the Ministry of Health; a shift that many government agencies will be able to relate to.

A case study: Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health’s (the Ministry’s) first website was launched in 1997. It was hosted internally; it could only be updated from within the Ministry head office; and there was no ‘disaster recovery’ in place. It had a very limited information architecture, a nearly unusable search engine and was very text (not design) focused. Because the website wasn't fit for purpose, after a few years, Ministry teams started going out and building their own websites. By 2009, there were around 100 Health websites in existence.

These new websites were launched regularly, but the people managing their development would leave, and the websites would languish with no one to look after them. Because each website was built and managed from individual project budgets, there was a lack of single accountability for the overall direction of the Ministry’s digital interface with the public.

In 2009, the Ministry made two significant changes. First, they decided to build a central website and a platform that would quickly consolidate the numerous individualised project websites, with the appropriate infrastructure incorporated to make the whole thing resilient and able to be updated from anywhere, any time. Second, they ran a leadership programme with a focus on growing internal capability.

While taking part in the leadership programme, Anna realised that, as Manager of Web and Publications, she had the mandate to set directions and expectations. With this realisation, she immediately noticed a distinct shift in her own expectations and confidence.

From that point on, consolidation was the Ministry’s digital strategy. They also put an emphasis on delivering information for the New Zealand public that was easy to read. Today, the Ministry’s centralised site contains more than 880 pages of trusted content for consumers. The Web and Publications team are constantly reviewing the site to make sure it remains useful for consumers as well as other stakeholders, such as health professionals, researchers and other government agencies.

The Ministry is now considering the best way to take advantage of telehealth developments and develop a multimedia web platform that, over time, will make it easier for customers get health information via a range of online channels. Anna and her team are continually seeking to improve the Ministry’s online presence, iteratively learning and adapting to external changes – no small feat.

Looking forward

In the future, we envisage that government service design will continue to focus on the needs of New Zealand citizens, and the services will be informed by data – rather than around government structure. This approach puts customers in the middle of government service design, and projects being designed in this way are being rewarded and recognised

SmartStart is online tool for new and expectant parents, launched in December 2016. It provides one place to go for step-by-step information to help parents and their baby get off to the best start. SmartStart is an initiative born out of a commitment to make it easier for New Zealanders to access and use government services online. It is the first successful integrated digital service across multiple agencies including the Ministry of Social Development, Internal Affairs, Ministry of Health, Inland Revenue, Plunket and NZ Midwives. 

The role of the leader is to encourage others to learn about new ways of working. This isn’t necessarily about technology replacing people; it’s about developing people so they can be prepared and take control of the changes instead of being pulled (or pushed) along by them.

What you can start doing now

  • What will being digital mean for how your agency delivers its services? How will this benefit your customers?
  • Talk with your clients: What sort of services will they expect from the public sector of the future?
  • Encourage online and offline collaboration. Get involved in virtual communities, social media and other networks that relate to your work. Bring together diverse groups; share challenges and potential solutions.
  • Grow your understanding of what is happening beyond your organisation.
  • Develop the right people: Identify individuals who possess the digital capabilities your organisation needs. Develop and promote people who demonstrate learning agility and who are actively applying new ways of working.
  • Allow experimentation during the design and planning stage: Promote an environment where ideas and new approaches can be discussed with a focus on continuous learning.

Research shows that highly effective organisations focus on agility, team-centric performance, rapid talent mobility, continuous learning and push for products to be delivered in a more iterative way. This links well with the Leadership Success Profile and the capabilities the LDC intend to focus on in 2017 and embed into our leadership development programme delivery.

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