As a keen runner, I know that it takes careful planning, patience, and extensive training to prepare for a marathon. From time trials to working out the correct nutrition and hydration, the details and long-term execution of the training process are crucial. This preparation is a welcome challenge from what can be a daunting prospect. Each step of the process is necessary and in itself can be deeply satisfying as it culminates in crossing that finish line.
I bring this same philosophy toward the challenges I face in my role as Chief Digital and Information Officer at the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It is imperative to carefully plan for the future while working out the details that will keep our organisation relevant and protected in the digital age. With this mindset, I welcomed the challenge of digital transformation for our organisation.
In some ways, digital transformation is comparable to a marathon. It takes vision, diligence, and patience, and the steps required for a successful outcome can seem daunting. But from personal experience, the reward after the hard work is absolutely worth it.
At the starting line
As with any organisation, we need to effectively and efficiently manage our limited resources to achieve our objectives and fulfill our mission. That is to build a stronger, greener future by fighting coronavirus, tackling climate change, unleashing innovation, and making the UK a great place to work and do business.
Investing in technology and digital transformation is investing in our people. Following the UK government’s cloud-first policy and goal of becoming cloud-native, we have been on a journey to deliver cloud-based platforms and services that enable users to carry out their work with a consistently excellent user experience.
My mission is to empower people on my team, and throughout BEIS and the UK government, by implementing technology and services that simplify operations, improve collaboration, and make us more efficient in our work. And with Zscaler, we’ve been able to achieve some impressive results.
You wouldn’t attempt a marathon with an old pair of shoes and you shouldn’t embark on a digital transformation with yesterday’s technology. To become cloud first, you need to implement a modern, zero trust-based security and networking architecture. For my team, the Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange has eradicated any reliance on appliances inside the department, which has been a real driver for simplification. Instead of having teams managing equipment and hardware, we have now freed up their time so it can instead be dedicated to strategic objectives around climate change, pandemic response, or building a better business environment for people to start and grow a business.
The pace of change in technology, as we all know, is rapid. While we don’t need to be at the leading edge of everything, we aim to make technology a utility that is almost invisible to the user. Working with strategic partners, such as Zscaler and Microsoft, we’ve enabled all our employees to work from anywhere with just an internet connection.
You have to go into a long-distance race with a plan for how you’ll set your pace, how much fuel you’ll need, your hydration, and more. While our team hadn’t exactly planned for the pandemic of 2020, we were prepared for it. We had been providing collaboration tools, such as Microsoft 365 and particularly Teams, so we had already successfully enabled employee collaboration and engagement, and easily transitioned to a fully remote workforce within 24 hours back in March.
Providing a great user experience is at the heart of everything we do to the point that recruits from well-known technology companies have recognised the onboarding process as the best they have experienced in their careers and this recognition makes us extremely proud.
Government-level: The buddy system
It’s incredibly helpful to have people you can run with as you prepare for a marathon. Partners are also key to effecting change and we are always looking for ways to build strong partnerships whether with the commercial market and as importantly with colleagues across government.
Our peers rank BEIS among the top three government departments for the service they receive from technology. I want to take what we’ve learned and apply this to the cross government interoperability project I’m leading to help produce standards and blueprints for implementing a modern, flexible, zero trust architecture that will enable seamless interaction with applications and services across different governmental departments while ultimately having the same consistent user experience. This will also help reduce barriers and provide an easier and more secure way to share data across multiple agencies.
Avoid “hitting the wall”
Based on my philosophy from my product development background, I strongly believe in spending a bit of extra time making the end product as flexible as possible, within sensible bounds, to enable you to cope with unknown situations. And so I continuously remind my team: "The best thing you can do is be prepared to be unprepared."
And I think that's where we've had real success, most recently with the complete switch to 100 percent remote work that we can support digitally.
As the next step in this direction, we are testing Zscaler Digital Experience, which we hope will enhance our first- and second-line support’s troubleshooting capability, increasing resolution at the first point of engagement.
Being the department within the UK government that is responsible for dealing with climate change, we are keen to look at our carbon footprint and reduction plan. We are working with our partners to make sure that they are as green as possible to reduce our cumulative carbon footprint. More than 90 percent of the services we leveraged via the Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange were powered by green energy during the past quarter.
Reaching the finish line
There are no shortcuts when it comes to completing a marathon. If you don’t train properly, you may never reach the finish line and, worse, you could get injured. And it is the same with a digital transformation. Without strategic planning, setting goals, and patiently working through the process, you could end up with a solution that doesn’t achieve your objectives and can’t support your evolving business needs.