The aim of the government’s digital strategy is to harness the digital in order to build and deliver services, which transform the relationship between government and state.
Since the 2012 Government Digital Strategy some progress has been made in transforming public services. Some of the most high volume services are now ‘digital by default’. Consequently new digital professions have been, and continue to be, created across the public sector.
Indeed, many departments have started to transform how they deliver services. According to the government’s website, this has improved citizens’ experience of a significant number of services, but in many cases it has not changed the way government organisations operate to deliver them.
It has meant that organisations without public-facing services have not benefited from the same degree of focus on digital transformation.
The development of GOV.UK was a notable achievement, and this code has been used around the world in other government’s websites.
The Government’s Digital Strategy (GDS) has been the driving force in digital-first ambitions. However, the new strategy has been a long time coming, having been delayed several times.
Today, the Government’s Transformation Strategy moving ahead for the next three years and beyond has been revealed.
The next stage of digitally-enabled transformation has three broad components, which together form the scope of this strategy:
- Transforming whole citizen-facing services: to continue to improve the experience for citizens, businesses and users within the public sector.
- Full department transformation: affecting complete organisations to deliver policy objectives in a flexible way, improve citizen service across channels and improve efficiency.
- Internal government transformation, which might not directly change policy outcomes or citizen-facing services but which is vital if government is to collaborate better and deliver digitally-enabled change more effectively
The 2020 digital transformation strategy
The strategy has five overall goals: business transformation; growing the right people, skills and culture; building better tools, processes and governance for civil servants; making better use of data and creating shared platforms, components and reusable business capabilities.
Before going into detail later on in this piece, here is a brief summary of the strategy and how the government hopes to implement it.
The aims are to design and deliver joined-up, end-to-end services, and instigate major transformation programmes.
It will also seeks to establish a whole-government approach to transformation, laying the ground for broader transformation across the public sector.
In order to do this, departments and agencies will keep working to improve the user experience of government services radically by building digital services that meet the Digital Service Standard.
Departments will complete their transformation programmes on the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP), and others which were committed to in their 2015 Spending Review settlements, delivering multi-channel services which are accessible to all.
Departments will find ways to experiment with transformation approaches and learn about what works and what does not
A cross-government mechanism will be established to build a common language, tools and techniques ecosystem where sharing knowledge and experience will help in approaching major transformations from across government. Learning from the private sector will be crucial in this regard.
GDS will update the guidance supporting the Technology Code of Practice and other applicable standards to support a strategic approach to replacing old technology.
Ben Gummer, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, said:
“I want to see a revolution in the way we deliver public services – so that people up and down our country feel that government is at their service at every single stage in the journey.”
“That is why we are today publishing our Government Transformation Strategy, outlining our commitment to reshape government by ensuring millions of people are able to access online the services they need, whenever they need. We will deliver these changes while driving efficiencies wherever possible, making considerable savings for the taxpayer.”
“Only by transforming the relationship between the citizen and the state – so that the latter serves the former – will we deliver the Prime Minister’s commitment to build a country that works for everyone.”
Ultimately, the government’s digital transformation strategy will aim to transform the relationship between citizens and the state by improving lives, enhancing convenience and championing progress through digital-centric initiatives.
Advancements in tools, techniques, technology and approaches of the internet age will hopefully allow the government to better understand what citizens need.
Effective digital transformation will allow the gov to assemble services more quickly and at a lower cost, while giving them the ability to improve services, based on data and evidence.
Aside from benefiting citizens, the digital transformation strategy will seek to transform government services and make the state a digital organisation.
This will produce a number of positives, including the ability to: deliver more immediate goals, reduce costs to the running of government (and the taxpayer), increase transparency and enhance data protection.
But how does the new strategy hope to achieve these goals?
In order to transform the relationship between the citizen and the state, in the period to 2020 the government has said it will ‘continue to deliver world-class digital services and transform the way government operates, from front end to back office, in a modern and efficient way’.
Developing and improving the right digital skills and culture will also be crucial. The government has said this can be achieved by embedding digital skills throughout departments and by making sure that civil servants of other professions understand digital.
The government has suggested building a data science capability through the Data Science Campus and Data Science Accelerator training programme, as one solution to realising this upskilling ambition.
The new GDS Digital Academy will also provide skills training right across government, training 3,000 a year from 2017 – creating the most digitally skilled Civil Service in the world.
Making better use of data will also be essential, not just for transparency, but to enable transformation across government and the private sector.
Appointing a new chief data officer for government to lead on use of data is part of the strategy to realise this.
On top of this the strategy outlines the plan to set up a new Data Advisory Board to align efforts to make best use of data across government, which will oversee a number of examples of better use of data and areas where it can build momentum.
Providing better digital tools and processes will be achieved in one way by making sure government buildings have common, interoperable technology and that the design, and use of space helps to create a culture of open, digitally-enabled policy making and service delivery.
The government identified creating a shared digital platform to manage operations as fundamental to the strategy. It suggested many ways to achieve this by 2020, but importantly, it identified the need to exit large single supplier and multi-year IT contracts and build shared components and platforms, extending the use of the ones it already possesses.
Offering some advice, Mark Cresswell, CEO of LzLabs said “If the UK government wants to ensure it will continue to be able to modernise, it must ensure its infrastructure is operating from modern, open computing platforms. If they do this, they will also be able to take full advantage of price vs performance comparisons, and pave the way for a modernise-able IT infrastructure built for the future”.
Moving beyond 2020
According to the government all major transformation projects are scheduled to be complete by 2021.
However, it notes that ‘transformation is a continuous process. While we deliver these major programmes, we need to plan for post 2020. By ensuring we are adaptable and responsive to change, we will be able to keep pace with technology as it evolves. This will ensure that we can maintain our momentum to transform government.’
‘To make government more flexible, we will make a clear plan for digital transformation beyond 2020. We will do the discovery and preparatory work needed to understand what further changes government will need to make in order to be fit for the digital age’.
>See also: Theresa May’s 10-point industrial strategy
Tediously ambiguous perhaps. However, the government strategy leading up to 2020 is extensive.
Identifying the need to upskill, utilise data more effectively, digitalise government operations and improve digital tools across government services are promising and necessary objectives.
It appears, the government has laid out an ambitious, yet attainable plan at realising these ambitions in implementing the transformation strategy for 2020. How successful it will be depends on commitment and funding.
Chris Price, director, public sector at Computacenter welcomed the Government Transformation Strategy announcement as “an important step towards ensuring the UK Government remains a global leader in its approach to public service transformation through harnessing best of UK tech”.
“The government has made significant strides in the adoption of digital over the last six years, and this new strategy rightly recognises the need now to focus on the wholesale end-to-end transformation. This means tackling the ‘back-end’ plumbing, and driving efficiency with an internal focus on equipping civil servants with the right workplace tools.”