Where Next for Public Service Transformation?

Written by Daniel Searle, UK public sector Chief Digital & Information Officer at HPE

Last week saw the release of the UK Government’s much anticipated Transformation Strategy, building upon the foundations of the now renowned 2012 Government Digital which heralded the “digital by default” era of public services. Recent changes in the leadership and direction of both the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service and individual departments suggests that we are on the cusp of the next-generation of digital policy.  It is crucial that an understanding of digital is no longer a specialist skill, as we see digital increasingly become an essential part of every civil servant’s capability. Here we take a look at the key elements of the 96 page document and put forward our perspective on what’s next for one of the most digitally advanced Governments in the world.

A government’s work is never done. The last few years have seen a huge transformation in how government departments procure, provision, develop and manage the digital and information technologies upon which they rely to deliver services to the public.  But, by nature, successful digital transformation relies on continuous iteration, both of the processes and structures by which services are delivered and of the services themselves. Continuous improvement should be embedded in all aspects of these iterations in order to effectively respond to feedback and ultimately create an output which comprehensively meets the needs of the end user. At a time when the increasingly tech-savvy citizen’s expectations of government services are higher than ever before, the citizen should be regarded as no different to the consumers of commercial services. To avoid disenchantment, the government needs to demonstrate its responsivity and ability to effectively serve citizens.

Raoul Vaneigem once said, “In the kingdom of consumption the citizen is king”, and never has this been truer than in this era of ‘always on’ ultra-connectivity ushered in by the digital revolution and the major sociocultural changes of the past decade. For now power rests with the customer, in this instance, the citizen. It is clear that if government is to remain relevant to people’s everyday lives, it must continue to disrupt the way it delivers public services. A report collated by a consortium of organisations, including the RSA, Collaborate, the Local Government Association, the ESRC and Impower indicates that there could be a £14.4bn gap between demand and supply for public services by 2020. Traditional efficiency or supply-side reform techniques can take us only so far, a logical conclusion would be to inspire a tangible shift in the way public services are designed and delivered. At a time when digital disruption is ubiquitous, from the way we shop online, go on holiday or order a taxi, government needs to aspire to the excellence of Google, Amazon or Uber in the delivery of great service experiences. Great services help people get what they need to do, done as quickly and easily as possible, so they can get back to their lives.

In a clear demonstration of progress, we have witnessed a considerable degree of change in how UK government services are delivered and the way that departments procure, provision, develop and manage the technologies upon which they rely to deliver these services to the public.  Government has transformed and modernised the customer experience with its ambitious “digital by default” mandate, but it needs to continue to keep pace with today’s technological advancements, not yesterday’s. Notwithstanding the many successes of the past few years, there are a number of challenges which departments must now tackle if they are to drive digital to the next level; being better at breaking down silos, reducing duplication and unlocking the potential of joined-up digital services, so that service delivery no longer takes place in isolation. By defining how new technologies will be harnessed and continuing to mature procurement models, government will achieve even better value for money and expand the skills of its civil servants.

At HPE we’ve seen some organisations succeeding immensely and others falling flat, not reaching full potential by missing key service and user needs. Chief Digital & Information Officer Dan Searle, who spent many years with both the UK and Australian government, gives his 5 powerful recommendations for driving success:

1. Continue to have a strong political mandate

Governments that have a clearly understood vision and mandate have been more successful at delivering digital transformation than those that do not.  The political support of the Minister for the Cabinet Office has been a key reason for the UK’s progression in recent years, and without this support, digital transformation would simply not be possible.

2. Drive service-led not departmental-led transformation

Transformation today in Government is too often departmental-led rather than service-led. This creates silo’d government services and requires that users know the mechanics of government to be able to get things done. Government must fully embrace a service-led design approach in order to improve the efficiency and usability of the services, ultimately unlocking a wealth of savings and breaking down the silos we see today. One only needs to look at the recent Digital Justice examples to see where civil servants have been working across departmental silos to create better justice services, together.

3. Empower end-to-end transformation

Government and suppliers must work together to integrate digital services with back-end systems and enable straight through processing to deliver real improvements in service responsiveness and better access to data. This is an essential, yet complex step to enabling a data driven government and driving the next generation of efficiencies from digital which will challenge traditional suppliers to break the status quo. HPE are ready to support government with this and are already actively taking steps forward.

4. Build the right capabilities to deliver results

The changes taking place in Government are not unique. All organisations across all sectors are responding to digital and the increased expectations of customers.

Delivering end-to-end digital transformation requires a broad set of capabilities and government must continue to build and enhance its skills and capabilities in data, technology and digital to remain able to deliver the needed changes. Continuing to focusing on digital skills alone limits the internal capabilities that government can draw on and subsequently the maturity of service transformation that has been achieved. Building skills and capabilities takes time and government will need to carefully consider what they build versus buy to not slow the pace of change.

At HPE we have built a broad range of digital transformation capabilities so that we can complement and enhance the capabilities that our clients have, through active knowledge transfer we help our clients build the skills needed for the next phase of transformation and beyond.

5. Embrace technologies

Government needs to embrace the full suite of today’s digital technologies, including mobility, big data analytics, automation, robotics, and the Internet of Things in order to radically transform service experience and delivery models. Whilst it is true that adoption is not always easy, we work with a range of clients in the public and private sector helping them to unlocking the power of new technology.

Whilst it is clear that the government faces many challenges in the near future in order to achieve its goals, success and excellence lie around the corner when the power of digital transformation is effectively harnessed.

Working in partnership with the Flemish Government, we have capitalised on the power of data to improve and simplify service delivery in order to enable data driven decision making. This ultimate provides citizens with an efficient, appropriate and responsive service in which data is only provided once by the user. By quickly considering how it can develop coherent technology strategies that extract value and deliver radical improvements, government can capitalise on ongoing opportunity for savings and efficiencies within the public sector if government gets it right.

Now is the time to lead the next stage of transformation for UK digital services and to excel. Remember, it is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.


This blog first appeared here and was reposted with permission.

Daniel Searle is the UK public sector Chief Digital & Information Officer. Daniel helps public sector clients to respond to the opportunities and threats created by the digital world by developing integrated strategies, delivering end-to-end transformation of whole services and back office functions, enabling better use of data by unlocking its value, helping to create flexible technology that enables transformation; and, supporting the development of technology capabilities and digital skills across government. Every day, Daniel is helping civil servants to make public services better and cheaper. 

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