Defining Digital

Defining Digital

Since joining the Local Government Digital Team a few months ago, I have noticed that colleagues across local authorities and other public bodies in Wales refer to digital in different ways. I have found ‘digital’ to be used interchangeably with IT. I wanted to take the time to share the difference and why you would not want me to try to fix faulty hardware in a school!

In this blog, I will try to define what digital is and clear the blurred lines between digital and IT.

Defining Digital

Digital is focussed on the human. In its simplest form, it is about identifying a person’s unserved needs to create value for that person.

It is important to define what is meant by ‘needs’ in the above definition. This is something that can be confusing, even for digital professionals. The needs of a user/human/person/individual is the job or activity they are trying to complete, not the product or service they are using to complete it.

Humans are not loyal to a product or service, they are loyal to the job that the product or service helps them to do.

A good example to highlight this point is music.

When I was growing up I would have a stack of CD’s in my bedroom, my favourite being Performance and Cocktails by Stereophonics because my favourite song was ‘c’est la vie’. The reason I had those CDs in my room is not because I wanted to have shiny, plastic disks lying around. It was because it did a job for me, which was enabling me to listen to c’est la vie. Now, I don’t use any CDs, I stream music from the cloud on my phone. Both CDs and cloud streaming enable me to do the same job, indulge in music, but cloud streaming doesn’t need me to have physical disks, a CD player plugged into the wall, or extra time to go and buy something physically, which makes it better. In this example, cloud streaming has identified my needs, some of which I was and some of which I was not aware of, and then served these needs in an improved way than CDs ever could. This is what digital is all about. needs, some of which I was and some of which I was not aware of, and then served these needs in an improved way than CDs ever could. This is what the definition of digital is all about.

Now that needs are defined, I am going to explain how we, as a digital team for local government, identify the needs of citizens in Wales and then design solutions to address them.

Our approach, which is one of three main themes in our strategy, is human-centred design. Human-Centred Design is a process that starts with the person we are designing the solution for, and repeatedly engages with them at different stages of the journey, ensuring that the solution we create addresses their needs. The steps we complete are as follows:

  • Define the customer. There can be multiple customers all with very different needs. For us, this would usually be the case and our customers will be the citizens and local authorities.
  • Empathise with customers. Truly understand what the needs of the customers are. To do this, we would conduct user research through various methods like focus groups, interviews, desktop research for example.
  • Define the need. Phrase the unserved need in a way that encourages creativity in how it can be addressed. This means avoiding solutions. For example, the need is that the customer wants to listen to “C’est La Vie” with less barriers. Not, the customer needs a wireless CD player.
  • Conduct competitor analysis. Are there already solutions that resolve the unserved need available. If so, an assessment of the solution will need to be conducted, for example, what is the reputation of the company, are the solutions affordable, is the solution inclusive.
  • Ideation. This is most digital practitioners’ favourite part of the process. The ideation stage involves getting together all of the project team, presenting the problem or need that has just been defined, and then offering up ideas to address the need. At this stage all ideas should be welcomed and built upon.
  • Prototype. The chosen solution will need to be prototyped and tested with customers. This is where we will test whether we are designing a solution that is desired, if not, we would need to go back to the user research stage.
  • Test and Iterate. When developing the solution, we will keep going back to users to understand any needs we are not addressing and how usable our solution is. This is an opportunity to keep improving the solution to make it optimum for the task.
  • Go Live. Once the service or solution has gone live many organisations will stop monitoring it. This is not what a digital team should do. The team should regularly assess how successful the solution is with quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure the solution remains fit for purpose.

I hope in those 8 steps you noticed how many times I mentioned the customer. That is what digital is, to repeat what I wrote earlier, digital is all about the human. 

Definition of Digital in IT 

IT (Information Technology) refers to anything related to technology, such as networking, hardware, software, the internet, or the people that work with these technologies.

IT is an integral part to every organisation as it supports every service, communication, or organisational action. If you stop and think about all the times you have engaged with technology today, all of those times will be supported by an IT team within an organisation. When it comes to Local Authorities, IT teams are hugely important as they do not just support the technological infrastructure of their own organisation, but also organisations like schools, town halls, social service centres and so on.

IT enables digital solutions. This is the difference between the two. Digital teams can design the best solutions in the world but if they do not have an IT team to support that vision, nothing will come of it. Likewise, IT teams can implement the best platforms and systems, but without a digital team to design what the solution should be like for users, it is just a system.

Digital vs. IT

In summary, Digital and IT teams work closely together. However, they are very different teams that perform very different roles. IT teams support organisational actions, they are enablers, whereas Digital teams focus on people, they are designers.