Breathing new life into joined up government

In 2008 the political scientist Donald Kettl introduced the idea of a ‘vending machine’ style of government. Operating in vertical silos, hierarchical and providing standalone services, this structure works well for routine services that don’t require collaboration. But it falters when we need joined up government.

For example, support and advice for the elderly is provided by the NHS, the Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities, private sector providers of residential care and the voluntary and communities sector. How well the organisations work together and co-ordinate their activities has a significant impact on the quality of care provided.

And there are clear benefits from kicking the ‘vending machine’ approach into touch and shifting to joint working, such as:

  • Tackling complex social issues such as drug abuse, rough sleeping, juvenile crime by promoting the design of programmes which are better interconnected and mutually supportive
  • Promoting innovation by bringing people together from different backgrounds and experiences
  • Improving cost effectiveness of public services by removing overlaps and realising economies of scale

The citizen view of joined up public services – our digital barometer

Nowhere would the advantages of joined up government be more visible than in the way government interacts with citizens online. Our recent research with Ipsos, and my previous blog shows that online access to public services is the number one priority. But citizens increasingly want government to use the same systems and share data with one another. And this a consistent message across the UK, France, Norway and Germany.

Chart 1 - text translation at bottom of page
Chart 1: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for government? (Top 3 responses)

This means delivering services through ‘one stop shops’, integrated with websites accessible 24 hours a day, and by citizens only having to provide information on a range of issues once, and to one location. However, the dream of never having to retype your address on another sign-up form is a long way off. We asked citizens if they had ever used a government service that extracted information from other relevant public services. Just thirty-nine per cent said they had, while sixty-one per cent said this had never happened.

Chart 2 - text translation at bottom of page
Chart 2: Have you ever used a government digital service that accessed information about you and your family once and included information previously provided to other parts of government?

Joining up through platforms – are they the answer?

The Government’s Transformation Strategy clearly establishes the need for common capabilities to manage publishing, web hosting, identity verification, notifications, payments and other processes. The goal is a seamless or horizontal government offering to improve performance, illuminate problems and lower costs.

A platform model will punch holes through government silos, improving efficiency and reinforcing transparency. But we also know that digital transformation is as much about organisational culture as it is about technology.

What needs to be in place to promote successful joint working across government? My checklist is:

  • Working towards clearly defined, mutually valued, shared goals and evaluating progress towards their achievement
  • Ensuring that sufficient and appropriate resources are available (typical skills for joint working are project management, marketing, consultation, financial planning as well as IT)
  • Leadership, to direct the team and the initiative towards the goal, with the ability to convince stakeholders of the purpose of the initiative and secure the involvement of a wide range of organisations

Successful parts of government are constantly rethinking how to bring together the right combination of skills to build products and serve customers. That often means creating more fluid and agile structures in which day-to-day work is organised into smaller teams that cut across business lines.

The key digital tool at their disposal is data sharing. Data is your biggest ally when making big changes or attempting to solve complex problems. Numbers provide information and analytics can be used to focus resources. In my mind the objective should be to:

  • Pilot approaches within a specific line of business and at a departmental level and scale up – it’s usually less complex than a government wide effort – as we learnt in our Court Store project
  • Adopt a ‘system of systems’, built around data exchanges, and building a common understanding of how the shared data is defined
  • Ultimately burning down data silos, as the impact is multiplied when data sets across departments are integrated, remixed and processes with analytics
  • And phasing out legacy systems gradually, moving to new systems in phases, and always asking “will this system be useful to other parts of government?” (often through open source platforms and technologies)

Sopra Steria is working with public servants across governments to develop new platforms and processes. If you would like more information, or would just like to raise a question or add information, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.

Text translation of Chart 1

Question: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for government? (Top 3 responses)

  • Online access to public services: UK 83% / France 84% / Norway 91% / Germany 81%
  • The single transmission of data to government: UK 77% / France 85% / Norway 87% / Germany 77%
  • The creation of a portal giving access to multiple services: UK 76% / France 86% / Norway 88% / Germany 75%

Text translation of Chart 2

Question: Have you ever used a government digital service that accessed information about you and your family once and included information previously provided to other parts of government?

  • Yes, once: UK 18% / France 21% / Norway 14% / Germany 19%
  • Yes, several times: UK 21% / France 22% / Norway 32% / Germany 11%
  • No, never: UK 61% / France 57% / Norway 54% / Germany 70%

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.

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.

The reality of digital transformation of government

Since the 2000s people have embraced the digital revolution. From banking online to doing their food shopping, millions of individuals and businesses benefitted from the convenience of digital services. But government was slow to respond and found the transition to digital hard. Numerous digital strategies and policies came and went. But the way public services were delivered stayed the same.

In recent years government has been forced by budget pressures and customer demand to be more efficient and is using technology as a vital tool for achieving that.

The Government Digital Strategy set out how government will redesign its digital services so well that people prefer to use them. The Government Digital Service (GDS) started by replacing the jumble of government websites with just one – GOV.UK. It introduced new standards and worked across Whitehall to replace paper-based processes with a digital equivalent. And it is now introducing new platforms to solve problems common to all or many government departments (Government as Platform).

The result is that talk of ‘digital transformation’ is everywhere. To highlight just one example, at Budget 2015 the Government set out the vision for a transformed tax system. By 2020 it expects to fundamentally change the way the tax system works – transforming tax administration so it is more effective, more efficient and easier for taxpayers.

But what does ‘digital transformation’ really mean? And how is it different from the technology enabled change of the last twenty years?

My experience is that digital means different things to different people and at different times. And there is a large degree of confusion and frustration.

For me, the most common ways of explaining ‘digital transformation’ are:

  • ‘It isn’t analogue’, which means less paper, as bureaucratic form-filling is eradicated, and access to digital services that cut across silos, which is enabled through;
  • New modern technologies, which means having the right technology (including social, mobile, cloud, analytics) and capability (including new supplier standards) to deliver digital services; and
  • New ways of working, which means putting users at the heart of projects, introducing iterative models that allow for constant evolution of organisations and new ways of working.

The reality is that real digital transformation is achieved when all of these issues come together and we are more ambitious about the outcomes we want to achieve. This holistic approach is recognised in a recent document published by the Ministry of Justice. The next stage of reform for courts and tribunals will include end-to-end digital applications for Lasting Power of Attorney, probate and divorce.

Which means moving beyond the construction of a website as the entrance to government systems built in a bygone age.

Instead, the objective of digital transformation in government is increasingly about fundamentally changing structures, systems and processes behind those websites. Without this wholehearted approach, the promise of cost savings and better outcomes will fail to materialize.

My experience is that the conditions for success in digital transformation tend to be organizational rather than technological.

It depends, first and foremost, on political sponsorship to champion the initiative, an executive team to drive through execution and empowered and cohesive teams able to exercise strong governance (i.e. to identify early service and business risks).

Second, there is a need for rigorous business case discipline to shape and manage projects and ensure value capture (i.e. clearly articulating the benefits of IT investments, estimating costs accurately and picking the right projects to invest in).

And finally, as government use data — about infrastructure, health and safety, and citizen satisfaction — to improve services, integrated security solutions to align with business processes (i.e. digital identity and access management, data loss protection and cloud and mobility security).

I am keen to hear your thoughts on digital transformation and how it might be delivered in government. Please leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

The Government workforce of the future

Government needs talented and high performing civil servants. Yet we know that the civil service has longstanding weaknesses in key areas such as finance, commercial and digital – a key finding of our recent Government Digital Trends Survey. And recruitment and retention is challenging when cuts are made to operational costs, wage rises are frozen and posts are cut.

The recently published Civil Service Workforce Plan makes the case for developing professional skills and expertise in government. There is a commitment to open up the civil service, allowing more external recruitment and opportunities for secondments in other sectors. And the benefits of diversity, reducing the dominance of people from a narrow range of socio-economic backgrounds, is also recognised.

The civil service will need to rapidly put these plans into action, especially as it expands its professional skills and expertise to deliver digital projects at scale across Whitehall and the wider public sector.

The civil service needs the right number of people with the right skills in the right place at the right time to deliver short and long-term departmental objectives. What might be the building blocks for this?

First, workforce planning requires alignment of departmental goals and objectives and the human resources available. The workforce implications of any programme need to be considered and planned for from the outset, both in terms of any anticipated staff needs or redeployment and in terms of managing the change so as to minimise disruption and protect capacity and continuity of service.

Second, skills and competencies gaps need to be identified. This means determining the current resources and how they will evolve over time through, for example, turnover. Then comparing this with the kind, number and location of staff needed to meet the strategic objectives of the department. This assessment will determine the existing gaps in terms of numbers and competencies between the current and projected workforce needs.

Third, defining an action plan to address the most critical gaps facing departments so that human resources can support departmental strategies. The more effort expanded in stakeholder engagement during the action planning stage, including consultation with industry, the greater the likelihood of a more coordinated approach to implementation. Depending on the gaps, the action plan may address recruitment, selection, compensation, training/retraining, restructuring, outsourcing, performance management, succession planning, diversity, quality of life, retention, technological enhancements, etc.

Finally, it is also critical – particularly in fast moving sectors like technology and digital – to secure an effective workforce now and in the future. This means identifying emerging skills that can support a high performing civil service, including leveraging technology better.

Are you a civil servant involved in securing an effective workforce now and in the future? Do you think the Civil Service Workforce Plan will lead to a more sophisticated process for workforce planning? Or are you an organisation in the private sector or civil society with an innovative approach to recruiting and retaining staff? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below, or contact me by email.

Rethinking civil service skills in a digital world

The pervasiveness of digital technologies in daily life is fundamentally changing the way civil servants work and deliver public services. Three quarters of the civil servants that responded to our 2nd Government Digital Trends Survey told us that digital was having an impact on their work.

Increasing use of digital in government is raising the demand for new skills in three ways. First, civil servants across an increasing range of professions need to acquire generic ICT skills to be able to access information or use software. Second, the production of digital services – increasingly developed in-house or in mixed teams with private sector partners – requires more specialist skills. Third, the use of digital technologies is changing the way work is carried out. Civil servants need the capability to process complex information and plan in advance and adjust quickly.

For the past two years we have asked civil servants to tell us what is being done to ensure they have the digital skills needed for their work. We found that civil servants are taking a proactive approach to skills acquisition. 32% were using self-directed study, in their own time, to develop their digital skills (an increase of 8% since 2015).

But the most startling finding of this year’s survey is the increase in the number of civil servants telling us that a lack of training is a barrier to digital transformation.

This is an increase from 43% to 53% in just one year, making it the single biggest obstacle to digital transformation in government – even more significant than a lack of resources. And 25% of civil servants told us that they had not been given any formal training for the digital skills needed for their role. Plus the number of civil servants saying skills and training are a barrier to transformation is only likely to increase as digital extends from exemplar projects to mainstream service delivery.

Our experience is that the increasing demand for digital skills presents two major challenges. First, the skills of the future are difficult to identify with certainty due to fast technological change in the digital economy. The second is how to ensure that, once changes in skills have been identified, skills development systems adjust sufficiently fast to match new demands.

These challenges demand a comprehensive skills strategy.

A skills strategy must help an organization identify strengths and weaknesses and develop policies that recruit, retain and retrain staff. This includes skills assessment and anticipation tools that are used to help prepare or plan for future scenarios.

In the private sector we are facing many of the same challenges as Government when it comes to skills. We had concerns that we lacked the real time business information required to spot outdated skills, promote staff development and recruit new skills.

To address this we asked our digital consultants to develop what became ‘MySkills’. By taking a UX-led approach we were able to create a tool that captured 1,900 skills from over 600 people in the first month. Buoyed by the success of this pilot we rolled the tool out across the wider business.

Please leave a comment below or get in touch by email if you would like to know more about our government digital trends survey or the MySkills tool.