Lisa Welchman is an expert on digital governance. She’s been working in digital issues since the early 1990s. I met her at the UXLX conference in 2015 and have stayed in touch since. We talked about her beginnings, about managing chaos, about digital transformation and digital governance, and about the future.
How did you first get involved with digital issues?
I worked in the financial sector as a Lotus Notes developer in the earlier 1990s. When the commercial web hit, it was a natural fit. A friend offered me a job writing HTML from home after I had my son (who is 23 now!) From there it was a job at Cisco Systems managing their web publishing systems. Then I started a consulting firm in 1999 which focused on solving large-scale website collaborations issues. At the onset of my consulting career, I was mainly focused on enterprise content management systems and website workflow issues. As social and mobile channels appeared on over the horizon, my work segued naturally into digital governance–how to get digital teams to collaborate well when they make things and put them online. Now, I’m exploring the intersection of Internet, World Wide Web, and Enterprise digital governance. Those three interact in a dynamic that is interesting and not altogether clear.
Is it possible to manage chaos?
No. I know my book is called “Managing Chaos.” But, if I had to do it over again, I would call it “Managing Through Chaos.” The chaos will always be there and have its dynamics. The question is what can a particular business, organization or individual do to make the capacity of the Internet and Web work well for a particular set of goals. I think that is eminently doable and has been proven–for good and for bad. The point is to be intentional about it. It’s not going to happen by accident–hence the subtitle “Digital Governance by Design.”
Tell us a bit more about your book
The book proposes a vocabulary for describing digital governance problems and a framework through which to solve those problems. For me, digital governance exists in every organization–either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentionally formed governance models are characterized by unclear and ad hoc stewardship of the digital portfolio. That murkiness leads to poor outcomes online. Deliberately designed governance frameworks outline clear digital stewardship patterns and lead to better results online. I try to stress that governance doesn’t have to mean a straight jacket. You can design a digital governance framework that has a lot of flexibility for makers or you can take that straight jacket approach–if your strategy and culture require it. The point is to design it. Don’t just fall into a weird work pattern and presumptive accountabilities.
What particular challenges do public institutions have when facing Digital Transformation?
A lack of real integration between digital capacity and the strategic goals of the organization. Or, in other words, letting digital operate in a silo. This problem is real for any organization, public or private. A digital transformation has occurred when an organization completes the deep integration of digital capabilities with the rest of the organization’s strategies and governing and operational paradigms. Through this process, the organization is transformed through the possibilities that digital brings to the table. This means that digital transformation is a maturity issue. The change is complete when digital thinking and capabilities are integrated with at-large organizational strategies and operations. Of course, digital will continue to evolve and grow, but it’s not operating in a silo. A more common understanding of digital transformation is that it is about improving customer or citizen experience. That should be the outcome of this maturity process. Public organizations, particularly those without an extreme citizen facing service agenda can lag in this areas because there are few fiscal or service drivers to push them on their way–and they often have a monopoly on the service or data that they provide.
Can transformation come from the bottom up, or does it have to start at the top?
Technically speaking, the initiation or the ideas for transforming the organization could come from anywhere, but it won’t be a successful transformation without the strategic commitment, and the resources garnered through executive participation. Leaders have to be on board for it to be successful.
What must companies do in 2018 to embrace Digital Governance?
Understand the nature and scope of their online presence. A lot of organizations have no clear idea of what they have online and who the stewards are of varies properties across their digital channels. That’s a basic. Know what you have online and who touches it. After that, you can start thinking about higher order concerns–but know the basics first.
What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Think “and” not “or.”
When solving problems for a community of people, binary thinking is usually off. Most good solutions involve the synthesizing of multiple ideas into something better for the whole. No one gets what they want, but the broader community is satisfied. Which means there is a solution that most people can live with.
Find out more about Lisa at http://www.lisawelchman.com