By Thiag Loganathan
A look at the traits required in a hunicorn who is looking to win over decision-makers--some often with zero IT knowledge--for investments in tech upgrades.
Hunicorns double up as evangelists, convincing people with little tech knowledge, or those with dated ideas of technology, to consider IT upgrades.
To successfully champion digital transformation within their organization and external stakeholders, hunicorns must illustrate the efficiencies a tech upgrade can deliver, and the cost benefits for the government agency or organization in the long run.
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This is not a simple process. Here, old mindsets need to be smartly navigated and new thought processes installed in their place. A tough ask, especially when you are dealing with government agencies rife with political pressures and decades-old legacy systems.
Upon accepting the CIO position with the Indiana Department of Child Services, Kevin Jones was given the monumental task of rebooting a much delayed IT overhaul for child support. He not only evaluated the need from a technological perspective but also had to ensure it aligned with the business needs of the department.
Clearly, a hunicorn must balance the twin goals of getting in place agile systems and backing them with sound cost-benefit analyses.
So, what are the traits required to win over decision-makers--some often with zero IT knowledge--for investments in tech upgrades?
Before we highlight the unique traits hunicorns bring to digital transformations, we must remember the four areas that will stop a project in its tracks. No matter the project, never lose sight of the budget, user experience, implementation timeline or risk monitoring! We are always amazed when talking to hunicorns how this knowledge is always at the forefront of their minds.
For us mere mortals, it’s worth emphasizing this first step. You will never regret extra time spent focused on any of these areas.
It is imperative for hunicorns within government agencies, well known for their bureaucracy and manual processes, to finely tune their communication skills to sell their plans for digital transformation. Unlike private organizations, there is often a sense of wariness in government agencies when it comes to technology. Additionally, due to the higher accountability involved, upgrades within these taxpayer-funded agencies are hemmed in by red tape. Many agencies have already sunk massive funds in clunky software, sometimes decades ago, and don’t see the business value in overhauling them.
Situations like this will require a hunicorn to channel their communication powers to effectively sell IT to decision-makers with little IT knowledge. Cleverly crafting their message to alleviate the unique concerns of each stakeholder is where a hunicorn excels.
This approach results in a hunicorn speaking the language that the listener can understand and relate to.
Kevin remembers discussing the high turnover rate of family case managers (FCM) for Child Welfare in Indiana. Previous, well-meaning employee engagement programs failed to adequately address the alarming attrition rate among FCM. Nearly 40 percent of employees stated they did not understand the pressures of the job prior to joining, and had they known earlier, they may not have joined. Kevin knew he could solve this problem with technology.
This allowed me to implement virtual reality. Prior to a person coming on, they go through a scenario using a virtual reality headset, which lets them see exactly what they're going to be doing 19
- Kevin Jones CIO , Indiana Department of Child Services
Supplementing this hands-on tech-backed training with a system that kept track of attrition data over the years helped Kevin work out a cost-benefit analysis. The technology implemented now helps the departments save millions of dollars in staff turnover.
There is strength in numbers, and a hunicorn will do well in building their credibility and rapport with various personnel across teams. Kevin points out that a CIO or technology leader must start by identifying the advocates in the room. This is a smart way to get others within the organization to support your cause.
Hunicorns must invest energy in forging a team of advocates, across multiple departments, to get the agenda for change pushed to the decision-makers. These advocates will pitch the idea to their networks, creating momentum and chatter about what a hunicorn intends to achieve. As a first step, work within your own department, investing time in team-building activities.
The tech leader occupies a lonely spot in organizations holding on to paper-based, legacy systems. A hunicorn is not detered from forming a tribe of supporters to expedite selling the new architecture.
Interpreting the business needs of the agency and providing tech solutions to address them is an important trait of a hunicorn. Technology means nothing to people with little IT knowledge unless they see it solving critical issues and plugging spends that bleed the agency.
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A hunicorn knows to talk money and has the ability to translate the need for tech transformation by way of numbers and projections: cost savings for the agency, increase in worker productivity, and enhanced outcomes of programs.
Kevin advocates using evidence and data to always back your decisions and arguments. He takes a data-first approach to gather actionable information that will help him sell ideas that align with the organization's larger goals.
Kevin was able to introduce the use of handheld devices for workers on the field as he was able to effectively translate technology adoption by addressing a business need: increasing worker productivity and outcomes.
"Their laptops are gone, replaced by Surface tablets. Family case managers are now able to walk around with the tablet, write what they need to and see it immediately system-wide," said Kevin.
A government agency hunicorn understands the challenges that come with the industry, none bigger than the bureaucratic hoops that they need to jump through. Personnel changes, multiple layers of stakeholders, political complications, technology- and change-wary decision-makers and employees all result in considerable delays in getting a technology upgrade off the ground. Due to their unique position, hunicorns tap their ability to build trust and relationships over time, slowly chipping away at obstacles in their way.
This process requires patience but it is important that the hunicorn is consistent with efforts to evangelize the need for agile architecture delivered in an asset-light manner and the long-term benefits it will result in.
Getting the go-ahead internally will seem like a victory, and rightly so, but the hunicorn still has a ways to go, as they now have to work on the painstaking process of finding the perfect vendors to fit the organization's newly designed IT roadmap.
Therefore, a hunicorn needs to be realistic about the timelines and work accordingly to execute their vision to overhaul a government IT system.
Ultimately, technology that seamlessly addresses all the problems of the agency and helps facilitate the goals of the program in a cost-effective manner, will win. But, it first takes a hunicorn to sell the idea internally.