The Most Influential Person In UK IT Discusses Digital Transformation
Q&A with Mayank Prakash, the most influential person in UK IT.
Mayank Prakash was a chief information officer multiple times over at private sector companies such as Avaya, Sage UK, and iSOFT. He also was a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley where he was responsible for Global Wealth and Investment Management Technology.
Four years ago, he pivoted dramatically, taking on the role of Chief Information and Digital Officer of the United Kingdom’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which is the largest public sector organization in the country. He has found a motivated workforce up for the challenge of digital transformation in order to enhance the services that the DWP offers. Moreover, he has seen great advantages to being a more mature company inasmuch as there is ample data to run diverse, mature analytics on data sets that span several decades. He has also found that the significant challenges and opportunities that he and his team have been tasked with tackling has been a magnet for talent that is up to the challenge. He indicates that the greatest joy he has taken from this experience has been the opportunity to impact 22 million British citizens’ lives.
Due to the size of his role, as well as the change that he has enacted, he was named the most influential person in UK information technology for 2017 by UKtech50.
Peter High: Could you describe the United Kingdom’s Department for Work and Pensions?
Mayank Prakash: The Department for Work and Pensions is one of the largest organizations in Western Europe, and it is the largest public-sector organization in the United Kingdom. The best way for me to describe the DWP is from the perspective of the 22 million people who drive the change. Everybody in the UK has come across our services in their lives as we touch all citizens. We support children when their parents are separating to ensure that they have a better quality of life. We look after employed people who are of working age to make sure that they have fulfilling lives and that they are working. We look after disabled people to allow them to explore their potential. We look after retired people, who are typically living longer lives. We do all of this in an effort to produce better outcomes for them and for society.
High: Could you explain your role as Chief Digital and Information Officer?
Prakash: The role is centered around meeting all the practical aspects around data, IT infrastructure, and security. On the digital side, the goal we are pursuing is to meet emerging customer experiences. It is critical to become more efficient to meet the emerging customer experiences because we spend north of £6 billion running the DWP. We are not driven by a profit motive, but we do this to improve outcomes for the people we live together with whether that involves getting more people into the workforce or ensuring that retired people have a predictable financial security.
High: Given the diverse array of people sho you deal with, ranging from millennials to older citizens of the United Kingdom, how do you think about the different personas or different experiences in which your citizenry wishes to interact with the DWP?
Prakash: We work with diversity on every dimension, ranging from age and gender to geographical footprint and social background. Like any large organization with a diverse footprint, we do not employ a one size fits all strategy, but instead, we use active segmentation of our customers to make sure we target our services to get the best impact. Additionally, we do not look at these customers as the cohorts. Instead, we ask ourselves what is the problem that we are trying to solve. The purpose is to work with people of working age to ensure that they are, in fact, working. That purpose leads to the need to get more people into work, which leads us into why some people may not be working. This leads to active segmentation and better delivery of targeted services.
High: Part of the focus of your digital transformation has been the simplification of the technology portfolio. Many older public and private organizations may have technology from various decades housing extremely important data, and the process of modernization and simplification can be a challenge. Could you talk about the way in which you have thought about this challenge and the implications on the broader digital transformation?
Prakash: We certainly do have that challenge as an older organization. Any organization that has been on the leading edge for decades has the challenge of accumulating history. This works both ways as it can be an advantage for us, but at the same time, it can be a constraint for us to look forward. It can be an advantage because I have got diverse mature analytics on data spanning decades that a new organization will not have. We have had the pleasure of being a leading organization across industries and sectors, especially within Europe.
For example, back in the ’60s, we automated and put all of the country’s pensions, statements, and pension accounts onto what was the precursor to mainframes. Then we led across with leading-edge technology in the ’60s, which became obsolete in the ’80s, and we replaced it. We are now replacing that generation of technology and actively building our future. We look at this as evolutionary, and fortunately for ourselves, we want to reduce the debt actively, and we want to build the future for our services equally actively. The way we do it is by using data to intermediate or mediate the back-end systems of record from the front-end data production services that we are rapidly growing.
High: How do you think about culture as it relates to innovation?
Prakash: We need to believe in teams to achieve outcomes. Also, we create a culture that is inquisitive and creative. The possibilities of what we could do are constantly changing, and innovation is not something that happens in a particular room and by a particular set of people. It is about finding how to create an inquisitive culture that is curious about learning from others to learn about new possibilities and explore and maintain them.
High: As you foster cultural change, to what extent does it require the retraining of existing employees, and to what extent does it mean bringing in external employees or partners to provide something new that was missing previously?
Prakash: The purpose of training is to change skills and therefore, in our experience, it is difficult to train people to change their values. We are doing a series of interventions to inspire people to think about their values and how they engage with people who have a different set of principles. This is challenging as that cannot be told to people. Instead, they must want to do it. Additionally, we are bringing in new people so that we can learn from them. That is transformative, and it is a catalyst in driving change in the people.
High: As someone who holds two titles as CIO and CDO, how do you think about those as two sides and two different teams. An extension of this is the idea of bi-modal IT that some adhere to. This is the idea that there is a portion of the team that is managing traditional IT responsibilities and a portion that is working more on the art of the possible which is more forward-looking and innovative. Philosophically, where do you stand on this issue? Are you more in favor of the bi-modal approach or do you prefer something more combined?
Prakash: Philosophically, I ask, “What is it that we need to do to achieve outcomes?” I consider this an outside-in view rather than an inside-out view. If I have a mainstream platform that is working fine to deliver outcomes, I do not believe there is anything wrong with it. In fact, I believe it is a perfectly good value for money as it is stable, it is reliable, and it largely has no viruses or vulnerabilities. I would keep running that, and because that drives the business today, why should it be run by a group of have-nots while another group of haves gets to wear cool T-shirts and caps? We should distribute cool T-shirts and caps to all people who create value for us. This is because the reality of our business, similar to any other mature business that has been run for decades, is we have products that run our business at any given point in time. Additionally, we have new products that we are designing to re-imagine our business. The combination of these two is unlikely to go away, and therefore we pursue to be the best at running ourselves well, efficiently, and effectively. In the past few years, we have taken hundreds of millions of pounds of costs out (roughly thirty percent) by running ourselves more efficiently and effectively. Equally, we want to transform ourselves quickly, and there we have leveraged data channels to help over eight million to check their pension statements.
High: You are not a life-long public servant, and you have had a diverse career. In fact, you have been CIO at several large companies in the private sector. What drew you to government service after this long and diverse set of experiences across a number of leading companies in the private sector?
Prakash: A few aspects did. First, as a public servant, proportionally you transform on a massive scale. The government organizations were a few decades behind the best across industries. Because of this, the opportunity to leapfrog and be the best at what we do is one of the reasons why I joined. The second reason is the purpose of what the organization does and the opportunity to make a difference in 22 million people’s lives. These are our fellow citizens. These are not customers or a number on a spreadsheet, but these are real people. The opportunity to change their lives is an inspiring opportunity through the impact of an exhibition of technology. The last aspect that drew me to the DWP is the opportunity to work with people who are incredibly sharp, extremely humble, and people who together achieve what most people cannot.
High: One of the important cultural attributes needed for an organization to succeed in the digital age is learning agility, and the willingness and curiosity to learn new skills, technologies, and methods. You personify this life-long learning, as you completed executive training at Singularity University after receiving your MBA. From your experience, how would you advise your fellow executives on how to ensure that they do not become old dogs who cannot learn new tricks?
Prakash: I believe that it is extremely important to constantly learn. The upside of learning is that if you learn, you can beat nearly anybody who is an expert in a few years’ time because whatever they are an expert at will be off-click in a few years. I love our profession and I am incredibly lucky that there is a huge overlap in what I enjoy doing, what my hobbies are, and what my profession is. Because of this, I constantly learn. For example, over the weekend I was coding on OpenCV using Homebrew on the macOS, and recently I was listening to Apple WWDC. They update servers on Apple, double for connection, downloading its codes latest version 10 and looking at what is new in that. This is simply curiosity to go explore in be hands-on. Additionally, this helps me connect with the reality of the teams I lead to allow me to support them better. For me, knowing our subject matter experts makes me significantly better at supporting people by understanding what would be of help to them to achieve bigger and better outcomes. Learning is a great deal of fun and I enjoy it in today’s age because learning online gives a plethora of resources. We welcome Fortune 100 and Fortune 300 organizations to come and learn from us and from our journey because we learn from them in return.
Article originally sourced from Forbes