When the Government Digital Service (GDS) was created back in 2012, in response to Dame Lane-Fox’s report a year earlier, it laid the groundwork for changing the government’s digital channels and ignited a huge drive for digital transformation in government services.
But the path towards digital transformation has not been smooth. The initial successes with unifying the Government domain, Gov.uk, gave way to more limited success when it came to transactional services. As Gov.uk Verify was launched, it was met with some criticism from experts and customers alike.
Concerns have also been raised regarding the lack of IT integration between health, justice, education and police sectors.
The UK government has great intentions, but what is holding us back from fully embracing transformation in the digital space?
Why Is The Public Sector Digitally Transforming?
In our last biennial survey conducted in 2016, 63%of respondents said “budget squeezes” were the main driver for digital transformation in the public sector. This was followed by the need for “increased accessibility” (52%) and the need to meet “demand for online services” (50%).
It comes as no surprise to see the UK government investing in digital self-service solutions in an effort to save cost, especially with the uncertainty of Brexit and budget cuts, but the Lane-Fox report focuses on the increased quality of services that can result from moving demand for services to the digital channel.
For respondents who work in organisations that have already embarked on their digital transformation journey, 44%of respondents said they have seen significant savings already. In addition, 88% of those respondents were anticipating further significant cost savings in the following three to five years.
Digital by Default
If cost is the main internal driver within public sector organisations, the external driver was the UK Government’s introduction of the Digital Service Standard back in April 2014, which introduced the concept of Digital by Default. Digital by Default refers to criteria of 26 requirements that all public sectors organisation must adhere to and pushes the idea of channel shift driven by digital services so well designed and delivered that people will naturally want to use them over more traditional channels.
But it is important to note that the Digital by Default initiative is not meant to replace services with digital-only options, instead, it is simply meant to encourage channel shift by building better service access through digital for those wishing to use them.
Subsequently in 2017 the Government Transformation Strategy sought to address these issues by looking more broadly at whole service and departmental change designed to bring the success of Digital by Default to every transaction between citizen and government. Alongside the transformation strategy are the Design Principles, the Digital Service Standard and Technology Code of Practice, all of which formed the three main legs of the transformation journey for government.
Data security and data handling is a major concern for public sector firms. When embracing digital transformation, public sector organizations must achieve and maintain GDPR compliance, which is a tall order when your technology stack is ageing.
Furthermore, with the emergence of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and the demand from consumers to engage with governmental bodies through them, the pressure to collect and manage data in line with the law is greater than ever.
To keep data secure, deletable and portable at all times, public sector entities must embrace the right technology.
According to research commissioned by Fujitsu, the UK is definitely keen on moving forward with digital transformation. 67%of citizen will always (or sometimes) use the digital option if it is available. his is driven by the need for speed and convenience. The up side for the service is the substantially lower cost of digital channel transactions in comparison to more traditional ones.
In the last decade, the UK has witnessed a significant increase in internet use. In 2015, approximately 39 million UK adults accessed the internet every day, in comparison to 16.2 million in 2006. And we’ve also seen a sharp rise in UK adults buying goods and services online. In 2015, 76% of adults made a purchase online, this rose from 53% back in 2008.
But what has changed more significantly than the increased usage of the internet, is the expectations and demands of UK consumers. Liferay’s 2014 white paper ‘Digital by Default, Open by Design’ stated that “the trend from purely seeking information to transactional service delivery is clear.”
In addition, 39%of consumers would prefer to see the UK move faster towards a digital future whilst 40% say that not enough has been done to educate people on the digital services that are available to them.
People expect instant access to services with their associated transactions and as noted by a recent study conducted by Salmon, 60% of consumers want an Amazon-Prime like service. No longer seeing the difference between commercial and public services, it is the customer experience that defines success or failure.
The Pain Points: What’s The Hold Up?
In the aforementioned 2016 survey, we discuss how digital transformation is an ongoing mission with no actual end in sight. The constant is change, there is no endpoint. New technology, trends and consumer demands will always fuel the public sector’s need for digital evolution. Having processes and systems in place that can service that need is vital for ongoing success.
But that doesn't mean the process is pain-free. Here’s what’s holding most public sector organisations back from innovation.
No doubt that in order to successfully change from a conventional system to a digital one will incur a hefty cost. Even though the 2017 Autumn Statement had pledged £740 million towards the development of full fibre broadband connectivity and a 5G network as well as improving communications to citizens making digital transactions, this really does not provide a full picture of how this digital future within the public sector will pan out.
Each government department has their own funding rules and regulations and their own budgets and accountability. A more detailed budget plan is required to clarify how each government department can proceed to embrace digital transformation.
31% of respondents from the 2016 survey have said that organisational change is the biggest concern. As one respondent stated: “the main challenge is around changing how things are already done and breaking out of systems that are institutionalised”.
It could be said that senior executives are not doing enough to embrace digital transformation through fear of change. This cultural inertia might be a key factor to why nearly 40% of organisations are lacking a clear digital transformation strategy.
Digital teams have an important task of communicating the key benefits of providing a digital experience to their customers to the entire staff spectrum, including senior members of staff. The benefits of providing a digital experience include:
Improves efficiency of processing customer requests
Improves customer satisfaction
Better access to information
Improves productivity in staff
Legacy IT Systems
Legacy IT systems (i.e. existing systems) in most government departments involve large capital investments. And according to 25% of respondents to the 2016 survey, the process of integrating digital platforms with existing systems is a serious concern.
But thankfully, The Cabinet Office has advocated the use of open source platforms (Technology Code of Practice, Government Digital Service 2018, Section 3. - Be open and use open source) which can easily integrate with existing systems and can add value to current IT systems and increase ROI. An open source platform can potentially:
Future-proof legacy IT systems from the latest innovations and developments
Be utilised by multiple departments that have different infrastructures
Maximise the value of current infrastructure
It is no secret that organisations must invest time, energy and resources to nurture teams with a high level of digital literacy. But that’s easier said than done.
In fact, according to research conducted by Barclays in 2017, 40 percent of people who live in the UK do not have the required digital skills for most jobs. Sure, children are gaining digital skills needed for the workplace in schools, but those who are aged between 35 and 55 are worried about their own technical knowledge, with only 23% of people in that age range claiming that they are confident in keeping up-to-date with their digital skills as time goes on.
While redefining the recruitment process is one way to tackle this issue, a more sustainable option would be to train existing staff.
Workload Bottlenecks for IT Developers
Let’s not forget the main body of workers who play a key role in helping the public sector digital transform; the developers. There is a risk of overwhelming developers with the task of implementing high-code digital solutions. Conventional high-code solutions are very labour intensive, and for developers who are working on multiple department projects, it will take more time to complete.
The solution to this is to invest in platforms that provide both accelerators (pre-existing elements that can be assembled quickly) and simplicity of integration (open standards and flexibility). These qualities allow organisations to stand up a service quickly using configuration only. This will ease the workload for developers and will enable any digital service to be implemented more quickly and iterate faster. Build, test, iterate, that’s the agile, responsive way to get services implemented and transformation moving.
That way lies the path to delivering value and success for any transformation project.