Transforming public services through digital excellence

11th January 2024

Civica's recent report offers insights to help civil servants and government departments remove roadblocks.

By Richard Shreeve, Technical Director, Central Government, Civica

In mid-2022, the UK government laid out an ambitious roadmap to transform public services digitally and unlock the power of data to benefit citizens. But reaching the end destination requires overcoming complex challenges around legacy systems, constrained budgets and digital skills shortages.

A recent Civica report, titled Transforming for a digital future: Progress, priorities and roadblocks, provided illuminating insights into civil servants’ perspectives on the barriers to digital reform, as well as their views on priorities and progress made to date.

Two key findings in the report on reform priorities stand out. First, improving the end-to-end user experience across high-volume citizen services emerged as the number-one priority, with 66% of respondents citing this. This result aligns closely with the government’s aim for public services to match leading online consumer experiences.

However, only 36% of report respondents agreed their organisation currently has fully modern integrated tools and systems securely in place to enable consistently delivering excellent, seamless citizen experiences.

Second, the most cited blocker, with 47%, was budget limitations. It highlights the constraints government organisations face as they look to modernise.

Undoubtedly, some progress has been made: 73% saw at least some improvement regarding user experiences, but only 10% saw “significant” progress. How, though, can departments deliver truly excellent digital services for citizens within tight funding envelopes?

“We’re now into almost 2.0, where we have these live services that have been running for several years, but we’re looking at how we can take them from just okay, or good, to a completely different level,” says Richard Shreeve, Technical Director for Central Government at Civica.

“We’ve got things like AI and intelligent automation that will enable us to transform processes that traditionally require someone in the back office to fulfil a process,” he continues. “There is lots of runway left in terms of service transformation. We’ve only really started the journey.”

Shreeve adds that data sharing, and “building a customer-centric view of data” will create more personalised services rather than a one-size-fits-all solution that is likely to be a lose-lose option.

Based on Civica’s decades of experience, making software that helps deliver critical services for citizens, he offers four proven approaches to supercharge digital service.

1. Start small, deliver value rapidly

Budgets may be tight, but small beginnings can yield meaningful results. Organisations can show concrete value early on by picking a high-impact service and using agile techniques to improve one transaction that really matters to citizens thoroughly. This builds the evidence and support to secure funding for more comprehensive initiatives.

2. Assemble cross-functional delivery teams

Delivering end-to-end service improvements requires diverse, collaborative teams. Bring together policy, operations, user researchers and technologists in a dedicated cross-functional team and empower them to drive change. Multi-disciplinary teams consistently outperform departmental silos.

3. Design for service users’ needs

Put the citizen experience first, always. Rigorously research real user needs, collaborate to reimagine streamlined services and relentlessly prototype and test solutions. Let user insights guide requirements, not legacy system constraints. Services designed around user needs will succeed. “First and foremost, the number one priority is to be completely obsessed with the user experience,” says Shreeve. He notes that the GOV.UK One Login will “enable us to identify a unique individual and start to personalise services”.

4. Embrace cloud delivery for speed

For agility, embrace cloud delivery models. Cloud’s flexibility and robustness accelerate transformation. Quickly build and deliver mobile-ready user interfaces and digitised processes on cloud platforms. Prove value fast, then optimise and scale successes rapidly. To speed up progress, it’s worth considering that Civica has built an extensive library of accelerators to de-risk the delivery of digital services on modern cloud platforms.

While these techniques deliver rapid returns, as overall reliance on new digital services grows over time, pervasive challenges like change resistance, digital skills gaps and legacy IT sprawl increasingly surface. How can reform momentum be maintained?

  • First, visibly demonstrate leadership commitment to reform. Celebrate successes, however small, that tangibly improve outcomes for service users.
  • Second, upskill civil servants’ digital capabilities at all levels. Programmes like the NHS Digital Academy exemplify sustainable success in developing digital skills. Developing a culture of learning is vital.
  • Third, aggressively integrate legacy systems using APIs. This avoids risky “big bang” change while benefiting from legacy data. As Shreeve emphasises: “Smooth data integration is key.”
  • Finally, keep an unwavering focus on service users’ real needs. Delivering demonstrably better citizen experiences, enabled by skills development, cloud delivery and legacy integration, will drive digital excellence.

Key takeaway:

Rigorously putting diverse users first, relentlessly prototyping solutions and assembling skilled cross-functional teams will deliver the better services citizens need. Civica can help at every step in a government department’s digital transformation.

Learn more about how we are helping to deliver the public sector services of the future.

Digital and Data Roadmap progress report: How are government departments doing?

Civica’s research reveals where obstacles remain and how to speed up the journey by assessing perceived progress against the six missions outlined by the government.

Find out more
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