Innovation and changeDigital TransformationLooking beyond Brexit: identifying government’s digital future

Looking beyond Brexit: identifying government’s digital future

A successful digital transformation of the government will require thinking and adapting like an end-user - Steve Thorn, Executive Director, Digital, Civica

The digital transformation of the government – be it central, local or devolved – is non-negotiable. Increased connectivity, powered by the near ubiquitous ownership of mobile phones means citizens expect to be able to access all types of services digitally and at their convenience, irrespective of whether it’s offered by a retailer or a government organisation.

Those external influences not only shape how government needs to respond to better serve the country but also increases the expectations from their own internal users. Many of them now interact with AI and automated services on a daily basis. They, therefore, expect an instant and personalised customer experience as standard.

In addition, policy and legislation changes bring a new set of requirements and pressures. For example for border processes alone, it was disclosed in a Public Accounts Committee hearing that there are around 30 IT systems in scope across HMRC, the Home Office and Defra that need to be changed or rewritten to meet post-Brexit border controls.

A report by the National Audit Office stated that two out of the eight reported key responsible organisations were either in red, or amber-red in IT readiness for Brexit D-day.

Economic benefits of technology

The economic benefits for transformation and digital government are significant. The UK Government Digital Efficiency Report has found out that digital transactions were 50 times cheaper than face-to-face ones. The opportunity to address major pain points is also a major attraction of becoming a truly digital government. These pain points range from slow, manual processes and managing multiple processes with limited headcount to siloed ways of working and unfit-for-purpose systems.

However, talking about it, and doing it, are two different things. The UN’s E-Government Survey 2018 saw the UK slip from first in terms of e-government development in 2016 to fourth in 2018. Denmark has climbed from ninth place to take the top spot.

While this is disappointing, the Danes’ performance suggests the UK can regain the initiative. Significant investment has already been made, and we are already starting to see a more pragmatic approach to digital modernisation, whether in procurement and technology choices or in the adoption of agile working methods.

But with the increased pace of change, many departments are struggling to implement the digital transformation projects needed to future proof the government in the digital era.

Preparing for a digital future

As the famous saying goes, “It’s not about the destination, but the journey.” Before embarking on any digital journey, government leaders must know where they’re going and be prepared to respond to changes in their environment. The journey is increasingly one where the end point is hard to know from the beginning, so being flexible in approach and applying innovation is key.

In terms of practical advice, this often means thinking big but starting small. The government has started doing with its foray into robotic process automation (RPA) for HMRC and other digital initiatives. Also vital is developing a roadmap and making sure that it is delivering value early in the process.

What’s more, the importance of learning from others’ successes can be a key part of any digital transformation programme. Digital leaders should be looking at what those within other sectors and geographies are doing. Aim for this approach should be to apply their learnings throughout the public sector to accelerate their own digital journey.

Pinpointing digital skills needed

While the right digital vision is key, the government will struggle to advance on any digital transformation journey without the adequate skills required to drive digital forward.

Our research amongst government employees found a clear skills gap when it comes to technical skills. A third (33%) government employees lack appropriate skills and knowledge. This is a major reason for the UK’s fall in the UN E-Government survey.

However, you also need people with a commercial focus who will ensure a return on investment and that the project is delivering value. Combined with experienced third-party partners, you can create a truly multi-disciplinary team with shared energy and drive to get you to your digital destination.

Thinking – and adapting – like an end-user

With user preferences, business needs and technology changing constantly, the government is under pressure to ensure that its digital services are keeping up. The lifecycle of solutions is getting shorter and investment and renewal are now required more frequently. A service, once live, is no longer a ten-year solution – it needs to evolve in two to three years’ time.

This means thinking needs to be in shorter timeframes, given how fast technology evolves. This is potentially hard to do when the policy isn’t changing that rapidly but it’s a must.

A major influence is the millennial generation with its anywhere, anytime, immediately user expectation. That demographic is increasingly becoming part of the workforce and uses services as citizens. As a result, it will become vital to think more short-term.

Another main driver is data, with more available than ever before. The challenge is how to combine and set data across a range of scenarios. The possible scenarios include: streamlining the user experience by avoiding the need to resubmit data that government already has; supporting better decision making with better data insights; and publishing more datasets to allow third parties to build additional services.

What does this mean with Brexit looming? For many organisations that means maximising the systems they have and extending how and where an application is used. It’s a bit like training existing employees versus hiring new people. The latter is sometimes critical, it is also more expensive.

Developing what you’ve already got helps you get more use out of your existing resource. This makes more sense since you’ve already made a significant investment in. This is likely why 68% of the central government workers we recently surveyed feel there are benefits to be gained from modernising legacy IT applications.

However, while for many this digital journey may seem complex, the reality is, it doesn’t need to be. The good news is that tackling digital transformation isn’t a job for the government on its own. The expertise, experience, and readiness to help organisations on this journey is out there. By working with the right partners, it can put in place the best models, approaches, previous experience and technology to overcome the challenges of a changing landscape.

The government has gradually become more adaptable around its technology adoption, procurement requirements and implementation methods. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach for digital projects. The government needs to stay at the forefront of innovation and of course in the parameters of budgetary restraints. Government leaders need to continuously re-evaluate what they are delivering. They need to increase the flexibility of their services and systems to adapt to future changes and evolving demands.

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