A data-driven future – navigating digital transformation

29th February 2024

At Civica’s Leadership Forum, Derek Wise hosted a roundtable discussion on how we can best navigate digital transformation.

Public sector leaders explored both the challenges of a data-driven future and some of the ways in which leaders and their teams are responding to them.

Challenging transformation

One key challenge is the very concept of digital transformation, not least because it implies an end point to the technology-driven improvements it is designed to create. Instead, transformation should be seen as a process of continuous improvement. Most of all, leaders agreed the need for it to be “outcomes-driven”. This can be a challenge for the public sector, which is driven by social purpose rather than the bottom line. Outcomes are not always quantifiable and can be harder to manage and track than, for example, revenue targets in the private sector. Leaders suggested, the key was to clearly and transparently identify outcomes and use them as the start point for digital transformation.

“R&D not A&E”

However a transformation programme is set up, it’s hard to implement when an organisation is in “crisis mode” as many public sector organisations have been since the pandemic. Summed up in the roundtable with the phrase “we need R&D not A&E”, this situation resonated with many council leaders. Balancing firefighting with taking a strategic long view is a challenge for many.


The vast potential of data

For data, familiar issues around silos, formats, sharing and trust often remain. However, one delegate used the DVLA to illustrate how a public body has nonetheless overcome these obstacles: its vehicle tax system now has no problem connecting data across insurers, MOT centres and government departments to automate a once-tiresome process.

Data is overwhelmingly seen as a source of enormous potential for councils, especially given the power of the latest analytic technologies to extract value from it. Leaders identified several key areas where data can add value. The first was providing better intelligence to support decisions. This can encompass anything from the big picture – an accurate, real-time view of expenditure across a council and its suppliers – to the tactical, for example ensuring a planning application also contains a full history of relevant building data.

Data is also a key driver of efficiency, especially in terms of ensuring that the right citizens receive the services and benefits to which they are entitled. Finally, it is the foundation for preventive services that could simultaneously help citizens and save money. One example is bringing together data from across public services to predict and prevent difficult situations – such as people falling into homelessness and rough sleeping.

Delegates did however sound a pragmatic note of caution about data-driven services, emphasising the need to be able to act on intelligence. Now that you know exactly how much of your housing stock has a mould problem, do you have the resources to fix it?

Changing culture

Leaders see culture as both a barrier and an enabler to data-driven transformation. One cited a series of internal workshops that analysed several hundred internal processes and found that nearly 90% of them could be transformed with AI . This created the potential for major savings but also came up against significant internal resistance. Cultural change is also needed to bridge across data sources. In many cases, the technology to do this is available but it can be hard to take action, especially when citizens’ data is involved. Overall, for effective transformation to be accompanied by the necessary culture change, strong leadership is needed.

Towards strategic partnership

Strategic technology partnerships can help address many of the challenges associated with digital transformation. This means both suppliers and their public sector customers working in an outcomes-based way towards shared, long-term goals that are based on continuous improvement. This way, vendors are also better positioned to keep councils in the loop about upcoming tech and its potential, to mutual benefit. Leaders agreed that building this kind of strategic relationship needs investment from both sides – but that the potential for shared success is worth the effort.

There’s huge benefit in a data-driven future. Getting there is less about technology and more about clarifying outcomes, changing cultures and building partnerships.

Derek Wise is Chief Product and Technology Officer at Civica

Look out for more Civica Leadership Forum insights this Spring as we discuss the key issues further.

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