Our European digital barometer survey: some key findings

Sopra Steria recently asked the researchers at Ipsos to conduct a survey of 1000 people, from a broad range of social groups and across the United Kingdom, to understand their experience of and expectations for digital government. We wanted a better understanding of the complex and diverse reasons behind adoption of digital government services, where there is an appetite for more or different services and the obstacles that block greater adoption.

The same survey took place in France, Germany and Norway. As a result we have an opportunity to compare how citizens in the UK experience digital with others across Europe and consider alternative approaches.

Governments across Europe are at different stages on the digital journey

Governments across Europe have been looking for decades at how best to use technology to improve public services. Over the last five years, rather than just putting paper forms online, government has put more high volume transactional services online. Citizens seem to appreciate the simpler, well designed digital services – three quarters of citizens described services as advanced in Norway through to just over half in Germany.

To see a text version of this chart, go to the end of this blog
Question: How would you describe the current degree of digital development – i.e. use of the Internet and technology – in the Government (national, local or devolved administrations) and its services?

Citizens in all four countries told us that taxation was the most advanced digital service. 89% of Norwegian citizens told us that digital tax services were advanced and 86% in France. By way of comparison, just 59% of UK citizens said the services of HM Revenue and Customs were advanced. It will be interesting to track how the significant investment made in Personal Tax Accounts might increase citizen perceptions of digital in future surveys.

We also asked citizens to compare government and private sector digital services. It is clear that citizen expectations are increasing – they understand the ‘art of the possible’ from their experience of dealing with the best private sector organisations.

Question: In your opinion, compared to the digital services in the following sectors, are the digital services of Government?

At the same time citizens across Europe told us that health and civil status services – that’s birth, death and marriage records – are priorities for investment. I think we can all sympathize with this. Too often people have to re-tell their story every time they encounter a new service and do not get the support they need because different parts of government do not talk to each other or share information.

What do citizens want? A single citizen portal

As illustrated below, there remains a strong appetite from citizens across Europe for the convenience associated with online access to public services.

To see a text version of this chart, go to the end of this blog
Question: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for the government?

Citizens also told us that they want joined up government – with one portal allowing 24/7 access to multiple public services, across national and local administrations, including the single transmission and sharing of data and information.

In the UK, Tell Us Once was launched in 2012 and has helped nearly two million families through a system that shares data on changes of circumstance with the DWP and other public services including local government and other government departments such as HMRC, DVLA, the Passport Service and pension providers. However the service is still not available in some local authorities or Northern Ireland and the range of services available varies between areas. There is more work to be done.

We have already seen how positive citizens in Norway are about digital government – this might be because they were one of the first countries in Europe to have a single sign-on for government and an ability to notify different parts of government of a change of address in just one transaction. As early as 2000 (a decade before the UK) the Norwegian public sector information portal (Norge.no) was launched to provide a portal which provides a single ‘electronic’ front door to the public sector.

Next steps for digital government

A shift towards citizen centricity has helped to focus governments’ attention on why user take-up of digital services was, at least initially, lagging. But the next phase of digital, clearly articulated in the UK Government’s Transformation Strategy, is to enhance the degree of integration and personalisation of services, collaboration and co-operation between public authorities, through standardisation and interoperability. This means making services easy to use by organising them in a simple and fully integrated way to increase the likelihood of users using them to solve their problems.

We have prepared a summary of the other findings and conclusions of the survey. This is available on the Sopra Steria website. And we will be blogging about some of the key themes, including data security and privacy and the potential benefits of automation for citizens.

In the meantime, please leave your comments and questions below, or contact me by email.

Text version of charts:

Chart 1: How would you describe the current degree of digital development – i.e. use of the Internet and technology – in the Government (national, local or devolved administrations) and its services? (all approx)

  • Norway 70%; France 75%; UK 63%; Germany 62%

Chart 2: In your opinion, compared to the digital services in the following sectors, are the digital services of Government?
% based on ‘Govt more advanced’, ‘The same’, ‘Private sector more advanced’

  • Banks / Insurance 23%, 38%, 39%
  • Telecoms 20%, 40%, 40%
  • Energy 17%, 47%, 36%
  • Sales 16%, 42%, 42%
  • Leisure / Culture 16%, 37%, 47%
  • Transport 15%, 47%, 38%

Chart 3: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for the government?

  • Contacting government offices online: 85%  }
  • Internet access to public services: 84%           } ’24/7 Online Government’
  • Single transmission of data to Government: 82%    }
  • Single portal to access Government services: 81%  } ‘Joined up Government’
  • Transparency of public data: 70% – ‘Open Government’

Doing more with less: digital transformation and social care

In a recent blog, I highlighted the need to shift thinking in government from efficiency to productivity. I used the example of education and highlighted innovations that might increase productivity through digitisation of teaching services and communication. I now want to extend the debate by looking at social care.

Social care services cover a range of home support services provided for the young and the elderly and people with disabilities, to assist people to remain in their own homes and communities. In England, social care is predominantly the responsibility of local authorities. They are facing unprecedented pressure due to rising demand and an increase in customer expectations. Growing numbers of older people often have increasingly complex needs.

At the same time future spending on social care is very uncertain. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, demographic pressures will cause per-capita spending to fall in the absence of additional funding. And local authority revenues are expected to fall by 7.4% between 2015 and 2020.

Social care providers are adopting new models for delivering care

Where is this happening? Connecting Care is a partnership across the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire area. The partnership comprises 17 different organisations (including the three councils, hospital trusts, ambulance trusts, GPs and community health providers) with 14 individual client record systems interacting between them. Client data is gathered from each participating organisation and carefully matched to display an integrated data set for each person.

This is one example of service integration through voluntary cooperation between the public, private and community sectors. Where there is a cultural shift, with services integrated through digitisation, there are substantial benefits for:

  • Administration: Supporting integrated case management systems, with a broader overview of needs and options to inform individualised planning and cross-sector coordination, using tablets for care plans, risk assessments, health assessments, safeguarding and medication (documented on the system in real time).
  • In home care and support: A combination of digital records and web-based access to information for staff and enhanced communication tools for service users and their family and friends, ultimately allowing service users to organise leisure activities and plan their own care and support.
  • Financial support: Increasing digitisation of the payment of financial support, including determining and verifying eligibility, and calculating and making benefits payments, ultimately leading to greater choice between different care options.

The major limitations of the digital social care market are not the shortage of technology

Innovation uptake is slow compared to other parts of the public sector. It is important to recognise that there are a number of complex challenges to successful digital transformation . Most of these challenges relate to the human dimension – the readiness for change amongst citizen’s and service users to an increasingly digital environment, and concerns about the privacy and security of personal data.

The practical reality is that the speed of advancement in technologies undoubtedly exceeds the speed with which the potential benefits can be realised in the delivery of social care. So, what are the practical steps that the public sector can take to speed up the deployment of innovations in social care and protection?

  • Step 1 – Greater transparency of processes and operations and encouraging participation of public, private and community stakeholders in policy making and service design.
  • Step 2 – Promote engagement and co-operation across different levels of government through adequate incentives, quickly moving to the pooling of resources and shared agreements and targets.
  • Step 3 – Develop clear business cases to sustain the funding and focused implementation of digital technologies projects.
  • Step 4 – Build institutional capacities to manage and monitor project implementation, with a significant emphasis on procurement and contracting practices.
  • Step 5 – Integrated data and better usage to measure productivity and efficiency in all parts of the value chain of public service delivery.

These practical steps do not just apply to social protection – they are equally relevant to other public services, including, health, education and other welfare services.

I’ve been really enthused by the examples of productivity enhancing innovations provided by public servants since my last blog. I would like to hear from more public servants about how they are using technology to enhance how they work and deliver services to the public – please get in touch by leaving a message or sending an email.

Intelligent personal assistants: an opportunity for retailers?

Alexa is arguably the tipping point for intelligent personal assistants; with Amazon’s open source approach to sharing its app (“skill”) development capabilities the sky’s the limit for this new, disruptive form of natural language driven customer experience. But what could retailers make of this opportunity? Here are some ideas…

It’s not the hardware but the cloud analytics that matters

Critical to any retailer using an intelligent personal assistant to innovate their brand is that these use cases should primarily focus on the business outcomes from using its cloud analytics capabilities, not the front-end device itself.

A retailer, for example, could use Alexa to provide instore guidance to shoppers to help them find items or make simple queries, physical customer browsing behaviour captured in the cloud that when combined with online experiences enables deeper, more contextual forms of personalisation across all this retailer’s channels.

An opportunity to simplify (and risk of complicating) customer journeys

A unique strength of an intelligent personal assistant is that it has the potential to smartly rationalise customer queries and transactions – an opportunity to turn chatbots into compelling conversational experiences a customer would have a preference for using over engaging a person or using a digital channel.

But there remains a significant user experience design challenge for its natural language driven interface – at what point does the buying journey become too complex for this channel and risks increasing friction for a customer? Any form of customer experience that requires a customer to look at detailed product information or make comparisons between products could be difficult and hard to follow through spoken voice generated content alone.

Alexa’s use of APIs could enable a retailer to combine this channel with its mobile e-commerce site (or in-store tablets) for example to create a seamless, holistic experience where complex information is shared visually driven by a customer’s voice commands and smartly informed by Alexa’s AI.

Bricks and mortar as a truly experiential destination

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Alexa (and intelligent personal assistants in general) is the potential for them to create unique, personalised experiences instore – a direct, deep relationship between a customer and a retailer’s brand. And because its cloud driven this enables interconnectivity (IoT) with other instore technologies such as targeted digital signage, interactive mirrors, social media engagement and mobile point of sale.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your retail business, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

What’s in a name? Shifting the debate in Government from efficiency to productivity

Government often thinks of efficiency and productivity as two sides of the same coin. But the reality is that they are very different. And this difference will become ever more important. The government needs budget cuts that maintain (or even increase) the volume and quality of key public services.

The term efficiency is used to identify the minimal amount of inputs that an organisation needs to use to produce products or services. Or doing the same with less. For the past decade, through various spending reviews, Ministers have asked Civil Servants to streamline services. This has led to a drastic reduction in the number of public servants: the Civil Service is at its smallest since the Second World War. Local government had to address more immediate and significant budget cuts (and central government could learn from how they did this).

This translates into savings because government spends less on wages and other staff related costs. Other (often lesser but important) sources of efficiency include improvements to government procurement and reductions to fraud, error and debt.

The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, described this approach in the following terms:

What we are showing is that deficit reduction and an opportunity society are not alternatives. They can complement each other. Because with a smarter state, we can spend less and deliver more.

Just like businesses, government needs to constantly adapt and change to improve public services and reduce costs.

But the benefits from improving efficiency are starting to peter out

There is evidence that key public services are being pushed to the limit. For example, violence in prisons rose sharply since 2014, with assaults on staff increasing by 61 per cent in two years. And in other areas, such as the health service, there is a constant upward pressure on demand and costs due to a growing and ageing population, which suffers from an ever-rising tide of complex chronic conditions.

There is a limit to how far government can cut staff numbers. The Ministry of Justice has plans to employ 2,500 new prison officers to make our prisons more safe and secure. And thousands of prison officers at jails in London and south-east England are to get pay rises of up to £5,000 to boost staffing levels. Other key public services, including border controls and tax collection, have also had to rethink staff cuts.

So, if efficiency has run out of steam then what about productivity?

The term productivity is used to assess how an organisation is succeeding in progressively developing its performance. Or doing more with the same. Productivity enhancing changes are often far reaching and innovative, particularly in high impact areas such as education, healthcare and social care and protection.

Government initially made investments in digitisation, generally with a focus on improving efficiency in administrative services that support frontline service delivery. These services were more user-focused and relied on greater use of digital technologies, including the UK Government’s cloud first policy.

So far so good. But as government departments are placed under ever greater scrutiny, including the modelling of further cuts through the Treasury’s Efficiency Review, they need to look at more innovative changes in service design and delivery. The use of digital technologies must move beyond the back-office and front-office administrative processes and be applied to direct service delivery.

The next step – public service reform and the integration of technology

Education is one example of how this use of technology enabled organisational change can enhance productivity. My formative education in the 1970s and 1980s was premised on relatively little change. Teachers rarely took account of preferred learning styles. The global revolution of online teaching and learning through massive online open courses was a long way off.

The so-called fourth industrial revolution requires us to be agile and to be bold. The pace of change, driven by technology and globalisation, is so fast that two thirds of children starting at school this year will work in jobs that do not even exist yet.

Education is changing and becoming more efficient. Most students have access to laptops and tablets both at home and school (although we must always be wary that some students might not have access to technology or necessary skills). Teaching and learning is supported through online resources that share knowledge. Administrative processes are being digitised.

But it is worth looking to other countries for inspiration and examples of productivity boosting investments. Denmark, Finland and Estonia have already developed digital tools that save teachers’ time when revising tasks and exams, they are building new markets to provide digital learning materials, to be shared across schools and they are developing an online ‘education cloud’ to join up educational platforms and materials.

I would like to hear from teachers and public servants, across local and central government, to share and understand how they are using technology and adopting new ways of working. Please leave me a message, or contact me by email and we can continue the discussion.

Want more girls in tech? Show them they can make a difference in the world

Last year I organised a Raspberry Pi workshop and competition for 13-year-old girls at Barnwood Park Arts College in Gloucester.  In discussing the events with their Computer Science teacher, Mr. Holland, I mentioned that the original concept was to get the students to create Pi projects that could help vulnerable people or the social workers and family members who look after them.  I offered him the chance to change that objective and do something that he thought would be more interesting to the girls, but he said, “No, that’s it; making it about helping people will get them interested.”

In the months since the competition, I’ve been trying to immerse myself as much as possible in the conversation that has taken off around gender diversity, and, in our industry, particularly, the question, “how do we get more girls interested in STEM?” and one of the things that is emerging for me is that Mr. Holland’s insight into his own students might well apply more generally: many girls want to do things that help others.

In her Entrepreneur.com article entitled “I Belong Here: 3 Ways to Attract More Women to STEM”, Harvard graduate and Head of Business Operations at biotech firm Illumina Merrilyn Datta notes that many of her female colleagues also working in STEM came to it because they saw a problem they wanted to solve and then that science and technology was the route to solving it.  She also points to research that backs this up: the ICRW has found that an effective STEM education programme encouraged girls to use technology to solve problems in their communities, and that University of Pennsylvania researchers found that “altruism has been highly linked to career choice for women.”

There is further support for the theory that women are attracted to careers that enable them to do good in the numbers of women who start social enterprises: according to a 2015 report by Social Enterprise UK, 40% of social enterprises are led by women – twice as many as run small businesses.

Given that women still comprise the vast majority of people undertaking paid and unpaid caregiving roles, from social workers to full-time mothers and carers of elderly parents, it shouldn’t be news that girls and women care about helping others.  In fact, there is an irony in this situation: one of the major reasons why gender disparity persists (e.g. in the form of lower pay, less access to finance, lower representation in leadership positions in business and politics, lower rates of entrepreneurship) is because the burden of caring falls disproportionately on women.

However, I see an opportunity here.  The fact that many girls and women want to make a positive difference in the lives of others is great news for those of us working in the parts of the tech industry that aim to use technology for good.  From fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity, to improving the lives of the elderly and curing disease, there is no shortage of opportunity to use a STEM career to make a positive difference.

So the next question is, “how can we ensure girls know that there is such opportunity?”  We can bring this out more in the outreach work we’re doing as a sector.  We’ve learned a lot in the last decade about the importance of female role models and having higher numbers of other girls in STEM courses so girls can see others like themselves.  Research from the WISE campaign found that girls need to see the context of STEM in the bigger picture, and be shown its application in real life situations and careers.  When we do these things, we have the perfect opportunity to also bring in messages about the careers in tech that have positive impacts.  We should also run our technology workshops for girls with this in mind: can we make these initiatives more exciting and relevant to girls by setting the focus on issues in their community and in their everyday lives?

…which brings me back to Mr. Holland’s students.  When we caught up after the events, Mr. Holland told me that in response to the challenge we set to create a Raspberry Pi project focused on helping vulnerable people all immediately thought of people in their lives their projects could help (usually grandparents).  That got them excited and opened their eyes to the potential of technology to do good.  After a one-day workshop with Sopra Steria mentors, the girls, in teams of four, set to work building Pi projects ranging from alarms that went off when medication hadn’t been taken on time to alerts sent to caregivers if an elderly person living independently had an accident in his or her home.  Many of the students conducted extra research related to the problem they were trying to solve (for example, dementia), so they could improve their Pi solution.  They did this of their own volition, because having been set a challenge they could personally relate to, they were engaged, curious, motivated.

Ensuring girls know about these opportunities is important, but it isn’t the only thing of course.  We also need to continue to contribute to the efforts being made by businesses in all sectors to make work more attractive to people with caring responsibilities, and to welcome people back to work after a career break (a good example of this is the new Returners’ Hub, which is supported by Sopra Steria and being launched on International Women’s Day).  There is a lot of work to be done to ensure more women have equal access to finance so they can start and scale-up new businesses.  As a society, we can do more to ensure both men and women can participate in caring duties, and that we value these duties more highly.

After this year’s International Women’s Day has come and gone, I hope we’ll ride the wave of momentum and redouble our efforts to make our sector more diverse now and in the future by getting out and talking to girls and young women and inviting them to be a part of the movement towards sustainable development in tech.

For more information about the People Like Me initiative that has emerged from the WISE campaign research mentioned above, and the new Returners’ Hub, go to www.techuk.org/returners on or after 8 March.

What are your thoughts about encouraging more girls into STEM careers? leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Photo used with the permission of Barnwood Park Arts College

Lending for social good: supporting women to start a business

On International Women’s Day, we are celebrating and raising loan contributions to support the work of Kiva

In January, we created a team on Kiva as a way of promoting micro-loans across our company. Some people already used Kiva, but for most it was a new experience. So far it has been incredibly rewarding.

Sopra Steria is celebrating International Women’s Day by holding events – open to both men and women – at a number of our UK office locations. At these events, we will promote and support Kiva as an excellent way to offer micro-loans to borrowers to start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realise their potential.

What is Kiva?

Kiva is an international non-profit organisation, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. We celebrate and support people looking to create a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

100% of every dollar you lend on Kiva goes to funding loans. Kiva covers costs primarily through optional donations, as well as through support from grants and sponsors.

Kiva lends in 82 countries, with approximately 1.6m lenders and 2.2m borrowers. Currently there are about $937m of loans funded through Kiva.

Why are we using it?

It’s a loan not a donation. We believe lending alongside thousands of others is one of the most powerful and sustainable ways to create economic and social good. Lending on Kiva creates a partnership of mutual dignity and makes it easy to touch more lives with the same dollar. Fund a loan, get repaid, fund another.

How does it work?

The borrower begins by applying for a loan. This loan request then goes through an underwriting and approval process. Once approved, this request is then posted to Kiva for lenders to support. Lenders crowd-fund the loan in increments of $25 and once it is funded the borrower is then lent the money. Over time, the borrower then repays the loan. Lenders can then use the repayments to fund new loans, donate the money to Kiva, or withdraw the money.

What is the impact?

Since Kiva started in 2005 there have been over 1.1m loans funded through Kiva, with 83% of these going to women.

72k loans have helped people get access to clean energy, 29k loans have been for education, and 765k loans have been to people in the least developed countries.

How do I join in?

Start your own team on Kiva, or join the Sopra Steria team and help us make a difference. We exceeded our goal to fund $250 by the end of March 2017, so we are now working towards a new target!

Are you supporting, or would like to know more about, Kiva? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Best kept Secret? Not any more!

I wonder if you also dislike the phrase ‘best kept secret’?

Some things should be secret but whenever I’ve heard the phrase ‘best kept secret’ it seems to be about something that doesn’t need to be a secret. Something that should be more widely known – not a secret at all.

Some time ago I was surprised to see a banner with my name on it at The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park. The image on it showed another Katherine Johnson, a 98 year old American lady who I came to see was another one of these ‘best kept secrets’. When I went to learn more about the woman who shares my name, I was soon very impressed.  Katherine Johnson, born in segregated West Virginia in 1918,  was one of a few women, handpicked by NASA, who were referred to as ‘Human Computers’, using their exceptional physics and maths skills to work out trajectories of rockets before computers were available to do the work.

When you talk about putting a man in space, you think of the astronauts don’t you? You might know the names of the astronauts like John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, but not the ‘best kept secrets’ like Katherine who enabled them not only to go up, but also come down safely. John Glenn knew who she was though and trusted her so much that when they introduced computers at NASA he got her to manually check the computer numbers before he would take off.

Katherine Johnson was one of those people who was essential to make great things – like the first manned journeys into space – happen. What makes her even more extraordinary is that she lived in a time when being a woman and being black automatically put you to the bottom of the pile. A world of segregation that involved separate doors, bathrooms, shops and so on depending on your colour. Employment decisions were made on totally bizarre grounds of sex and colour, rather than just ability or suitability for the job so being a black woman at that time must have been a double whammy. Katherine Johnson is a bit better known now – the Hidden Figures film out now is based on the book about her and her fellow black, female ‘Human Computers’. As well as the Presidents Medal of Freedom, she also has a building named after her in NASA – the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility.

People like Katherine are important in changing culture.

In addition to strong policy and laws to support equal rights, we need role models and inspiring stories.

A lot has improved since Katherine Johnson’s time at NASA, and even since I started my own career. Work is fairer and safer, and when I look around me at those leaving education and joining our company, I wonder what it will be like in a further 20 – 30 years’ time.

We are celebrating International Women’s Day in Sopra Steria this year and I’ve found out that we are one of the better organisations in IT as 33% of our staff are women – against a pitiful 17% for the Industry overall. I’d like to think that our recent graduates look back in 30 years’ time and say  “wow only 33%…” and that they don’t talk about ‘best kept secrets’.

But how to make it happen and how to avoid creating more ‘best kept secrets’?

Our success, whether at company, sector or country level is a result of our combined efforts and our talents. By considering the widest possible range of sources, diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas, we put ourselves one step ahead of those with a less diverse search when looking for the best talent. The challenge to each of us is to widen our horizons to make sure we are not missing ‘best kept secrets’ because we are not looking in the right places.

Where else are you going to look?

On International Women’s Day, who do you consider to be an inspirational woman?  Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.