My blog last week, the first in a series of four discussed the digital age and how development organisations can do ‘miniature’ and ‘on-demand’ development work. This blog presents the foundation development organisations need before they can fully exploit opportunities the digital age brings to them.
Read the Strategic-Plan of the modern development organisation, and I am sure that it will talk about organisational strength in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). However, this strength in ICT is: well laid out ethernet cabling, powerful server and latest software that deliver state of the art e-mail functionality, a shared filing system, and for the more advanced ones online accounting software. Many organisations will also boast of a web-site hosted by a third-party entity. Is this ICT backbone enough to exploit opportunities the digital age brings to these organisations?
Even if the above linear and basic ICT architecture was enough to take the modern development organisation into the enormous and fast moving digital age space, there is another factor that should worry development strategists. As a development professional myself, I know how much ‘good to excellent’ work is done by development organisations, directly and indirectly. Yet, we see a disconnect between such work and the ICT capacities of the modern development organisation. In effect, ICT capacity is internal to the development organisation and does not interface with the core-business of the development organisation – programming to eradicate poverty.
Blog one in this series explored, albeit briefly, some of the missed opportunities in this digital age. However, before organisations invest resources beyond the linear and basic ICT architecture we see at most development organisations, there is need to get organisational digital-age competencies right. If the modern development organisation were a human being, it would require a certain digital ‘mental-capacity’ for it to understand and exploit the opportunities the digital age brings.
Again, most development organisations (local and international) will talk-up their ICT capacities and I honestly cannot blame them for that, after all, that is what they know, and may not know what they don’t know. The modern ICT guru that can help this organisation know what it does not know is mostly persona non grata. The ICT guru lacks the cultural fit required at this structured, turbulence-hating development organisation.
What it takes for the development organisation to become digital savvy:
McKinsey alludes to the ‘digital age competencies’ I refer to above, in a research paper called ‘Raising your Digital Quotient’. Digital Quotient ((DQ) according to McKinsey is: the digital maturity of a company.
McKinsey defines four ‘markers’ that development organisations need to rank high on the DQ scale:
- Digital Strategy
- Digital capabilities aligned to the strategy above
- Culture awareness and drive
- A well-aligned organisation structure
The development professionals’ take on where the Orthodox development organisation is, on the qualitative DQ scale:
Now, how I wish my assessment ‘marked all boxes ok.’ regarding the DQ determinants at the modern development organisation. That is not the case though, the modern development organisation from where I stand, is not digital savvy. I have occasionally come across digital savvy development organisations, but they are not many. This still rare digital savvy organisation has its roots in the emerging social enterprise movement and the modern philanthropic culture driven by the wishes of American business moguls.
Strategy: linear and pretty basic, mostly addressing internal ICT needs of the organisation. The stretch goal for the development organisation ought to be: development of an authentic strategy, informed by a ‘new digital-age vision’ for the organisation.
This, as McKinsey reminds us all, should not be a ‘cut and paste’ job from development organisations that are leaders in digital.
Aligned digital capability: digital capability and organisational strategy are not always aligned. As mentioned earlier on, the development organisation internal ICT eco-system is mostly delinked from its core business i.e. development programming in remote villages. The stretch goal for the development organisation ought to be: ensuring that digital capability goes beyond the basic internal architecture to one that integrates and ‘digitalises’ the core business of the development organisation.
For example, many poor people use mobile phones, yet not much thinking has been done on linking development service models to the capabilities of the mobile phone.
Culture awareness and drive: savvy digital is not always about hardware and software. I believe that the biggest obstacle to changing the status quo at the development organisation lies in the culture at this organisation. Development is obsessed and driven by a culture of keeping ‘the show on the road’ and not creating space, time, and resources to explore the unknown. The stretch goal for the development organisation ought to be: bringing in fresh blood, including top leadership, to change the culture status quo
Organisational structure: this is another big obstacle to the change we need to see at the modern development organisation. Organisations are forced to have structures that deliver on-going and mostly ‘business as usual’ work, but find themselves with little or no resources left to invest in alternative structures that can take organisations into the future. The stretch goal for the development organisation ought to be: looking for ’new capital’ sources, not the traditional-donor type, to enable the creation of alternative or tag-on structures, specifically meant to deliver to the digital-age agenda.
My takeaway: It will take incredible BOLDNESS by development organisation leaders and Trustee boards, for the organisations they lead to acquire the right level of DQ. Development industry disruption shall only increase in this digital age, and DQ will increasingly become a critical success factor in development.
Is your organisation digital savvy and with the right DQ?