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Digital risk: the bigger picture

By John Fitzgerald on 26th May 2021

Often when we talk about risk and digital, we get into discussions about privacy and cyber security. But there are other, more fundamental questions: 

  • Do you do something or nothing? 
  • How do you decide what to do first? 
  • How about ‘time is money’? 

All of these questions have an element of risk and uncertainty. Finding ways to reduce the risk can help you get started on changing the way your organisation works, and start making some progress. 

  1. Do we need to do anything ‘digital’ or not? 

Digital can feel daunting and complex, so it’s tempting to do nothing or delay. But this has a cost, too.  

  • Doing nothing can feel ‘safe’, but it could leave you behind the curve. 
  • We’re all tried some short-term ‘digital duct tape’ during the pandemic, but now it’s probably time to review recent experiments and work out how to make them sustainable for the long term. 
  • Buying in external expertise or products can give you rapid progress on well-defined needs. But they’re not a magic wand – you still need to take ownership of your systems and how you use them. 
  • The best long term approach is to look for ways to build your internal capacity. This will help you develop lasting solutions that are informed by real user needs. 
  1. Where to start? 

You probably have quite a few areas where you would like to improve your digital capacity. Sometimes it can feel like everything needs fixing at once! How do you prioritise and work out what to start with? One useful tool is the effort/user value chart from Lean software development: 

The first place you should look for quick wins is areas where you can deliver a lot of user value for minimal effort. Often you can make a large impact by focussing on ‘pain points’ that give your users a lot of hassle. 

Next, you should carefully look at areas that also deliver a lot of user value, but take more effort to achieve. Take a cautious test-driven approach to make sure you don’t commit lots of effort to something that doesn’t work. 

Two areas you should avoid: firstly, don’t get distracted by issues or areas that deliver low user value, even if they are low effort to fix. Sometimes digital teams can get seduced by ‘shiny features’ that actually make no difference to user’s experience. And finally – this is fairly obvious – definitely avoid working on areas which deliver low user value for high levels of effort. They are not worth it! 

  1. Time is money 

Organisations often get stuck with digital because they have no dedicated budget for it. Some digital changes do cost money. But you need to consider time, too. Here’s a simple example: 
Muddling through vs Managed IT 

Two organisations, both with 5 employees: 

  • Both organisations spend £150,000 per year on staff costs 
  • ‘Muddle Through Trust’ struggles with ad hoc IT systems
  • ‘Managing Well SCIO’ pays £6,000 per year for a Managed IT service
  • Using proper IT saves them about 30 mins per day per employee per week
  • This equates to £10,000 of staff costs 
    • So ‘Managing Well’ are actually £4,000 per year better off! 

This is a real-world example, based on organisations I’ve supported. Two important points: we often forget the cost of ‘doing nothing’. Also, reliable IT is key to enabling your team to do their work well.