The strategy, driven by the Government Digital Service (GDS), promises by 2020 to deliver and design joined-up, end-to-end services, major transformation programmes and a whole-government approach to transformation. It also aims to build a framework for how to deliver this transformation, focused increasingly on knowledge sharing.
These are some rather brave ambitions, but what is left unanswered is how GDS hopes to achieve them. It is encouraging to see the GDS recognise a lot of the issues the public has with current public sector digital services.
A survey Riverbed commissioned last year, showed that citizens crave convenience, and they would be happy to interact with different public sector departments via one portal. The strategy does seek to expand use of the Gov.uk Verify identity assurance platform.
>See also: The UK Government’s Transformation Strategy
While not a single portal as such, the one Verify account to securely prove identity to multiple GOV.UK services seems like a step in the right direction.
Despite continued reports and reservations about sharing sensitive data, people would like to, and will communicate and engage digitally. GDS’ goals reflect that it is committed to raising its game to offer a digital experience that balances convenience, service, performance and security. But as to exactly how this will be achieved is something we will have to wait to see.
Across England and Wales there are hundreds of local authorities, each with their own leadership and priorities. Their priorities are set by thousands of elected councillors from unitary and district councils and delivered by over 1.6 million local government employees and a huge range of public, private and voluntary sector providers.
Add to this fact increasing devolution, as well as billions of pounds of spending from the NHS, how local councils implement digital transformation is now an incredibly important public policy issue.
While strategies in local government will vary based on the political priorities of the administrations advancing them, there are some common themes that need to be shared by almost all strategies. As the months go by, I’d like to see plans emerge from GDS which bear the following in mind:
Ensure digital approaches aren’t just taken towards procuring technology. Procure a new culture
While technology is the enabler of delivering advanced services, a digital government also requires a change in operating models. It means applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the modern era to respond to the population’s raised expectations.
Successful digital transformation will make local councils faster, more adaptable, and able to share more information more securely. But it requires redesign of not just technology, but also of governance, the workforce, the citizen experience and a host of related processes.
It means digital transformation for councils is more complicated than in much of the private sector.
Improve online transactions
Public-focused innovation is not uniform across departments. Levels of comfort with digital channels differ vastly depending on the service offered. There is a greater need for the public sector to optimise their applications to enable the best possible experience for all users – whether that’s a member of the public trying to book an appointment, or a doctor’s receptionist helping them to do so.
Unsurprisingly, the public sector is viewed as being behind the private sector on most digital markers, according to our survey. The most prominent disparities are in mobile optimisation, where 63 per cent think the public sector is lagging.
Recognise that digital technology and ways of working are becoming increasingly pervasive across all aspects of residents’ lives
In order to meet the expectations of UK citizens and stay relevant in a digital future, public organisations must work closely with IT to enable citizens’ access to data from an increasing number of connected devices, including smartphones, laptops and tablets.
Digital strategy should start with the end user – the key is to be informed by what the general public wants from digital and where they feel services are currently lacking. That way councils can implement common processes and up to date technology that meets expectations as well continually learn and improve upon their services. Such a public scrutiny study was undertaken by Ealing Council, and can be replicated across other local government bodies.
Incidentally, the report found that 70% of citizens are generally willing to engage with the public sector through newer forms of digital technology, and only 20 per cent would not be happy to see a paperless government by 2020.
More alignment with council corporate strategy
The financial crisis is showing that improved service delivery and internal public sector efficiency go hand-in-hand with economic growth and good governance objectives such as greater transparency, integrity and citizen engagement.
It proves that the government cannot afford to separate efficiency from other policy objectives in the implementation of digital technologies.
Identify adequate resource to lead and maintain transformation
Local councils are attempting to resolve legacy technology issues, but progress is slow. Government cuts often make up a big contributing factor. Which means councils need to ensure they are taking full advantage of their staff to ensure legacy tech is properly addressed.
This could be, for example, the appointment of boards specifically to champion the strategy for transformation.
It’s clear that citizens would like to, and will, communicate and engage digitally. The GDS looks as though it is on the right track to offer a digital experience that balances service, performance and security, but it would be encouraging to see more transparent plans in the coming months.
Just as importantly, on a more local level, councils must ensure that by 2020 they have the right IT infrastructure in place to effectively enable the changes set out by the Government Transformation Strategy.
John Street, regional director of government and defence UK&I, Riverbed Technology
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