2nd July 2019

Public service transformation – setting the right strategy

by Rob Anderson, Principal Analyst for Central Government, GlobalData

In this blog about improving digital transformation in government, Rob Anderson, Principal Analyst for Central Government in the GlobalData Public Sector team argues that the delivery of efficient digital public services can best be achieved within a coherent over-arching strategy.

With Digital Transformation having been around for about eight years in UK public sector bodies, it seems a good time to reflect on how successful the government has been in becoming ‘digital by default’. A 2012 Digital Efficiency report suggested annual savings of up to £1.8bn could be realised by digitising transactional services. However, there is little evidence to support the achievement of that aim; indeed GlobalData’s tracking of UK public sector ICT outlay suggests operational ICT expenditure has risen from £13.8bn in 2011/12 to £14.3bn last year. Even savings accrued by transferring some citizen-facing employees to other duties seem to have been limited, with total employment in the civil service rising again.

Nonetheless, outside of Whitehall which is mired in preparations for exiting the EU, there remains strong opportunity to drive onwards with transformation, and Northern Ireland offers a prime example. Following on from the publication of a four-year Digital Transformation strategy for the province, Civica commissioned a survey of 1,000 NI citizens on their appetite for digital services. The results predict a bright future for the region, with 85% of respondents believing that transformation will not only benefit interactions with government but will also provide a boost to local communities, as many digital companies have built a strong presence in and around Belfast.

There are already some excellent examples within the NI public sector of successful digital transformation programmes. One such is the Online Disclosure System developed and delivered by Access NI in partnership with Civica, which has resulted in 99% of applications now being submitted online. The new service has seen a reduction in the average issue time for enhanced disclosure certificates from 17 days to under 7, whilst operating costs have also reduced.

Industry experts widely quote one critical factor in achieving success as taking a holistic view of your organisation or at least examining the broadest view of a set of interlinked processes. A methodology commonly adopted is to take a user-centric view, rather than an inward-looking approach. A question to be asked is: “How do users interact with the range of services on offer?” This lends itself to building an over-arching strategy that supports an omni-channel approach to service delivery, enabling citizens to select their preferred mode of contact, which over time and where designed effectively, should become mostly digital.

Looking at individual processes and digitising them in isolation or without a review of their currency and purpose can be doomed to failure, or at very least result in an inefficient operation. This can, of course be difficult for huge central government departments such as DWP or HMRC that rely heavily on legacy platforms. For smaller agencies and devolved administrations however it can prove to be a highly effective practice that delivers a step-change in both service delivery and citizen satisfaction.

Even so, transformation can still be a daunting task without a reference framework; but one which can be eased by working with partners that have established digital maturity models. By following well-defined steps, one can establish an organisation’s readiness for transformation, taking into account the people, processes and technology available and those required to move forward. Such a model will also focus on the key desired outcomes and be a vital aid in prioritising which elements can provide the quickest return on investment. The results from this assessment further inform the digital strategy and support the production of a blueprint for achieving the desired end state.

The time is now ripe to kick-on with a renewed vigour for transformation based on a clear strategy. While digital skills may still be relatively scarce in the civil service, the community of suppliers with experience in helping organisations define their digital journey has never been stronger. Selecting a partner that has invested in the devolved regions, built robust models for implementation, and taken the time to understand the changing demand for public services will prove to be a defining factor in successful transformation.