Making government digital transformation the norm

The UK is one of the world leaders in digital public services.

In the last parliament 1,700 government websites were replaced with just one – GOV.UK – and more people are accessing government information online than ever before. The UK is also a world-leader in transparency. It is releasing huge amounts of public data to help people understand how government works and how policies are made.

And yet, despite all the progress being made, the UK and other governments are far from capturing the full benefits of digital. Digital transformation needs to go deeper, beyond the provisions of online services through portals, into the broader business of government itself.

In our second annual Government Digital Trends Survey we asked civil servants to tell us what digital transformation means to them. We were encouraged to find that 71% of respondents said digital transformation means change in the structure of how services are delivered. So the understanding that digital technology can be a tool to spark organisational change – rather than merely making existing structures more efficient – is now widespread.

Or as one senior civil servant told us, transformation means…

 …complete business transformation to enable government to do business in a digital world – not just services to citizens.

Digital transformation requires changes, to both processes and IT systems, but this is challenging to implement. It is important that private sector partners supporting digital transformation understand that civil servants operate in a unique context. This includes multiple agencies, long delivery chains, a range of organizational mandates and the challenge of maintaining continuity as politicians and policies change.

Success means looking for opportunities to improve productivity, efficiency and innovation at scale. What does this mean in practice?

The need to reduce costs and find efficiency savings remains a given. This can be achieved through shared service arrangements and a transition from legacy contracts and better management of contracts. There are still opportunities to reduce the costs of customer contact through the so-called ‘front office’.

But this will not be sufficient. Government must focus on reducing, avoiding or diverting demand.

Advances in a range of digital technologies, including mobile devices and data analytics, combined with changes in working methods, allow services to be radically reshaped in ways that reduce costs and provide a more streamlined and transparent services for users. A good example is our work for HM Courts and Tribunals Service and other partners to develop Court Store, a digital repository and document management system that is reducing the age-old dependence on paper.

And, increasingly, this means looking beyond providing citizens with better access to information. It demands, for example, integrated systems using real-time data, interactive and ask-once information seeking, joined up delivery and new forms of automated processes.

Leave me a comment or drop me an email if you want to know more about the Government Digital Trends Survey.

The journey towards government digital transformation

An ageing population, cost and budget pressures and citizen demands are just some of the factors that are reshaping the way that government delivers services. But the introduction of digital technologies could be the most important factor of all. Government is in the midst of a fundamental transformation as it abandons analogue operating models in favour of digital systems.

Civil servants suggest that truly transforming government through digital technologies will be a journey. This is the second consecutive year we have asked civil servants for their views on the value of digital, the progress made and the barriers to transformation. They reported that digital technologies are having a major impact – 75 percent told us that digital technologies had an impact on their work; 33 percent characterised the impact on their work as significant.

But this transformation has only just begun and cross-Whitehall reforms are often fragile and can quickly lose traction.

Another key finding is that departments are at very different stages in the digital journey. Civil servants indicated how far their department had progressed with getting the services they provide online. 14% said that their services were now live (an increase of 3% since last year) with a further 52% saying projects are in progress (the same as last year).

This year we went on to ask how far their organisation had progressed with the redesign or reinvention of services through digital. 11% said that their projects were now complete, with a further 51% saying projects were in progress. The results are similar across external (citizen facing) and internal (employee facing) services.

We also wanted to know how confident civil servants were that their organisation was going to complete its digital transformation activity.

17% of civil servants feel very confident that transformational activity will be completed. But this falls to just 12% when only senior civil servants are included.

Good progress to date but transformation is getting more complicated.

These results partly reflect that transformation is never complete. There will always be new customer needs and technological advances. But civil servants also expressed frustration that their organisations were not structured to deliver digital services or did not have the understanding required to make complex business processes truly digital.

Over the next few weeks I will drawing on more survey responses to highlight barriers to digital transformation and the benefits of looking beyond the front end to middle and back office transformation.

What are your views? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

SMEs are the engine room of the UK economy but they need large firms to succeed

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are a crucial engine of economic growth. There are 1.2 million SME employers in the UK who are responsible for fourteen million jobs. And, over the past twelve months, half of these SMEs have launched a new or innovative product or service. The UK compares particularly well internationally in its percentage of small high-growth technology firms.

But too many viable businesses fail or do not reach their full potential

Typical obstacles include inadequate finance and managerial shortcomings. The Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, recently called for ideas on how Government can support entrepreneurial activity and promote digital innovation. In our response we highlighted the Government’s role in creating an open and supportive framework for SMEs to grow and providing specific support to those with the most growth potential.

This framework includes recognising that SMEs do not grow in isolation but in partnership with larger companies. For example, SMEs rely on larger firms at the top of supply chains for new opportunities and for the commercialisation of their ideas. In return larger firms benefit from new types of breakthrough innovation developed by SMEs that can deliver superior outcomes for customers, and even shift a market.

How can SMEs and large firms work together?

Like other large firms, Sopra Steria maintains a diverse supplier base including SMEs. During the first half of 2015 we spent over £18 million with over 500 SME suppliers across the UK. We work hard to foster long-term relationships with smaller businesses that bring creativity and add value to our own skills and capability.

But large firms also need to understand that late payment is a frequent bugbear of SMEs. We are proud of our reputation as a responsible business partner and our responsible business practices. That is why we signed, and comply with, the strict standards of the Prompt Payment Code. This means that we give clear guidance to suppliers and pay suppliers on time.

Large firms are already working with Local Enterprise Partnerships, universities and other partners to put in place local solutions to help SMEs to grow. This includes business support through Growth Hubs, loan schemes to finance expansion activities and advice on export markets through UKTI. Devolution through City Deals and Growth Deals will encourage more growth and innovation.

Large firms can support this growth through events that highlight opportunities to work with them and their partners. In Cleveland (where we have a strategic partnership with the police) we run supplier open days, including bidding advice surgeries, and we attend meet-the-buyer events. This can make a tangible difference to an SME; a good example is a local firm that received coaching and went on to win a contract with the police to provide specialist uniforms.

Please get in touch by email to share your thoughts on SMEs and large firms working together, particularly if you have ideas or experience of the obstacles or enablers of partnership working. Or visit the Sopra Steria website for further details about how we conduct business with SMEs and other suppliers .

Why gaining real insight into user needs is the key to great service design and delivery

If government is to deliver better services with less money, it needs to meet the public on their terms, offering services which users recognise as being for them, and accessible to them. Civil servants must put user needs at the heart of digital (and non-digital) service design and delivery. They have to be outward looking and pursue a match between what the user needs and what government can provide.

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Figure 1: 61% of civil servants either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that they had a good understanding of their typical service users or customers. Just 13% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015

In our Digital Trends Survey, undertaken earlier this year, we asked civil servants to assess how ready they are to deliver user-focused digital services. The good news is that government has come a long way since the days when ‘take it or leave it’ service delivery was commonplace. A majority of civil servants (66%) said they had a good understanding of their typical service users.

However understanding is not the same as insight

Insight is about developing a ‘deep truth’ about the user based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs and needs, and then being able to bring about behavioural change. The survey results on user insight were mixed. While over half of civil servants said that they gathered information about service users, just 39% use custom data to help design services.

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Figure 2: 39% of civil servants either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that they use custom behaviour data to help design our services. Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015

A lack of insight will be particularly significant when delivering services for users without the ability, skills, motivation or trust to go online. We found that a significant minority of civil servants (36%) said that their customers or service users lacked the ability to use online services.

Putting ourselves into the shoes of the user – a quick guide

We recognise that the civil service is at the beginning of a journey and there is a challenge in unearthing user insights. Our User Experience (UX) consultants, using a kit bag of methods and tools, are able to slip into the customer’s shoes and understand the individual user experience in context. Here are some simple rules that they apply every day, which can get you started on the road to achieving real user insights:

  1. Kick off with UX research: the requirements of the end user are made explicit from the start. Throughout the project the team challenges business requirement with user needs. In the process the likelihood of being able to generate a win-win solution is enhanced (and trade-offs are made explicit)
  2. Target key users: an understanding of user demographics – gender, age, socio-economic group and lifestyle factors – must inform project design. Resources need allocating to desk research, user surveys, ethnography, focus groups
  3. Understand the context: there is no short-cut to meeting users and watching how they interact with a system or service on their turf. For example, we can consider the design needs of a community worker using a mobile application in their office, working with teachers in a school or with young parents in a Children’s Centre
  4. Accessible design is good design: users might not have a choice in interacting with a government service. So the relentless focus on user needs must address accessibility. This starts with an improvement in the quality of written content and extends to addressing issues of access, skills, motivation, trust and disability. Accessibility must never be an afterthought
  5. Capture and communicate what you learn: journeys mapping is a vital tool in revealing user behaviour and the end-to-end experience of accessing services. It will reveal important intersections and hand-offs between organisations and services. It allows the UX team to visualize a compelling story that creates empathy and understanding

Our experience shows that simple observation and engagement will challenge assumptions. It provides the rich insight needed to create something that both delights and engages the user. And the process never ends – iterative testing and updating of service designs based on feedback is best practice.

Your thoughts

Are you working on a digital transformation programme in government? Or working on a project that depends on putting user needs at the heart of policy-making or service delivery? Tell us what you think in the discussion thread below.

More about the Digital Trends Survey

In previous posts we’ve highlighted other issues raised in the survey including the setting of robust and relevant measures of success and digital skills. The full survey report ‘2015 Digital Trends Survey‘ is also available. And we’ll repeat the digital trends survey at regular intervals to track the progress of the civil service as it seeks to meet the ambitious commitments made in the Civil Service Reform Plan.

Measuring the success of digital transformation

The Civil Servants’ view

There is no lack of guidance for civil servants. For example there is the HM Treasury guidance on production and approval of business cases, the Magenta Book guidance on evaluation and the Cabinet Office spending controls on digital and IT. Recognising that the requirements of a digital project can change rapidly, as user needs are understood, HM Treasury and the Government Digital Service released supplementary guidance on Agile project approval processes.

But what happens in the real world when legacy government appraisal methods meet the reality of delivering digital projects with an agile mindset?

How confident are civil servants that they can define what success looks like?

In our Digital Trends Survey undertaken earlier this year, we set out to understand how civil servants view the progress of digital transformation within the civil service. Many responses highlighted the benefits associated with digital transformation, including efficiencies through channel shift and enhanced user satisfaction. But nearly half of the respondents had failed to gather the customer information that is so vital for monitoring and evaluation. Others pointed to deficiencies in the identification of Key Performance Indicators, as it was difficult to lock down system requirements at the start and manage delivery against a pre-determined timetable.

Many civil servants – including three at the very top of the service – reported that there was no measure of success for the progress of digital transformation

No measure of success… take a minute to let that sink in.

Can Agile and government project assurance work together?

Yes. Our experience is that good governance in agile can empower teams to follow programme management methodologies as they were intended to be used. Examples include regular project boards comprising client senior managers and stakeholders as well as project managers to review progress and provide solutions to any issues and ensure resources are available. This is recognised in the guidance on Agile highlighted above, which suggests that civil servants need to rely more on observation and engagement within the team and with stakeholders, rather than paper-based reporting and document review.

But in many cases even the best guidance and a strong central mandate will not be sufficient to catalyse the adoption of robust business cases and agile implementation methods. Digital leaders have a key role in promoting the advantages of a business case that contains empirical evidence and clear targets for improvement. They must emphasise that failure to consider monitoring and evaluation early enough can severely limit those options and the reliability of any evidence of impact. And incentives have to be put in place, with guidance on the level of detail required at each stage depending on the scale or complexity of the project. For example the HM Treasury ‘Five Case Model’ provides several excellent templates, but more training is need to understand the methods.

Moving from process improvement to measuring outcomes

Methods for gauging success in agile delivery in government are still rare. However better impact monitoring is critical. Large-scale implementation of digital solutions, and the business re-organisation that accompanies it, requires up-front investment. The benefits of digitization will take time and be felt outside the organisations that bear the costs of delivery (including in health and social care and across the criminal justice system).

Impact monitoring and business case methodologies will have to be developed that provide a comprehensive calculation of the various costs, benefits (including cashable savings) and beneficiaries. Or that illustrate more general benefits for society or individuals, even if these benefits cannot immediately be expressed in quantitative terms. Otherwise, implementation of projects will falter on the resistance of institutions to contribute to the costs of delivery or give up existing benefits (e.g. revenue streams from the provision of public sector information).

We’ll repeat the digital trends survey next year to understand if civil servants are coming to terms with the need to measure digital outcomes. And in future blogs I’ll be highlighting the type of cost savings, efficiency gains and quality improvements that can be achieved through digital and technology projects and how they can be measured.

In the meantime I’d be interested in your views on how to successfully define success and monitor the progress of digital projects, so why not leave a comment below or contact me by email.

More About the Digital Trends Survey

We commissioned Dods – a leading parliamentary communications organisation – to survey civil servants in Central Government and capture their views around the Digital Transformation agenda, the impact it’s had on them and the services provided to citizens. We had a fantastic response rate of 2,374 across all grades and Government departments. You can read more about the survey on our website. And you can read more about the digital skills gap that civil servants highlighted in our survey, and the implications for the civil service, in my last blog.

Bridging the digital skills gap in Government

Expectations of Government services are rising. Citizens want and expect digital services that are responsive to their needs. As a result civil servants need to be aware of the opportunities available through this digital world. This means fundamentally rethinking policy making and delivery, becoming more networked, transparent and focussed on user needs. Delivering this rethink needs new skills that can blend the digital world with traditional Civil Service policy making and implementation.

2015 Digital Trends Survey – some key findings

Earlier this year we asked Dods Research to capture the views of civil servants around their ability to effectively deliver digital transformation. The survey results testify to some progress in skills development, highlighting the commitment of civil servants to increasing their knowledge, but also flags that a lack of digital capability is a major barrier to successful digital transformation.

37% of respondents believe they lack adequate skills training for their roles

Over two-thirds of those surveyed thought that the skills support they received was not adequate, a slightly higher proportion than those who said they had received appropriate training.

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Figure 1 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)

Figure 1: We asked civil servants to rate their agreement with the statement that they received adequate digital skills training to do their job.  Civil servants were split on whether they had received adequate training with over 1 in 10 strongly disagreeing

The challenge for government is to build flexible skills and capabilities across the civil service. At a basic level this means every civil servant understanding how digital tools can improve the way they work through, for example, the use of social media to engage with users. It extends to the use of data for policy modelling, evaluation, data analytics and data mining to target improvements and monitor impact. And because services will continue to be commissioned from outside government, the civil service also needs staff with good commissioning / contracting skills and project management capabilities within the digital delivery space.

The most common methods of skill acquisition were informal, including best practice sharing, self-directed study and learning on the job

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Figure 2 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)

Figure 2: Digital skills tend to be acquired through learning that occurs outside the formal learning system

This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, as civil servants are entitled to at least five days a year investment in learning and development. This is met through a wide range of forms of learning, from e-learning, traditional training and other development activities. And the Government Digital Service (GDS) is offering more detailed and practical learning and development programmes for civil servants in specialist digital roles and in other roles that are expected to work closely with digital teams.

44% of respondents said that a lack of digital training for staff was impeding the move towards digital public services (only just behind a lack of resources)

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Figure 3 (Source: Sopra Steria and DODS Civil Service survey, 2015)|

Figure 3: Lack of digital skills is the second biggest obstacle to digital public services, only just behind a lack of resources, and twenty per cent ahead of any other factor

Departments have drawn on resources from the GDS and their ‘digital bench’ of digital specialists and specialist digital recruitment services. While many departments – such as HMRC, Home Office and Ministry of Justice – have established internal teams, others will continue to depend on GDS or face persistent challenges in recruiting enough skilled permanent staff.

The more pressing risk is that a skills deficit will affect implementation, with government missing opportunities to integrate systems and operations and wasting resources. The civil service must attract, develop and retain people who contribute with their skill sets to the achievement of strategic digital government objectives. It will also need to work with the private sector to supply teams of people focussed on addressing specific needs and outcomes (and not just bodyshopping!). And both the civil service and private sector will need to regularly evaluate the impact of emerging technologies, trends and projects on staff, to assess skill gaps and ensure the development of new types of organisational learning.

Why not share your view in the comments below about your experience with digital skills in Government?

More about the Digital Trends Survey

We’ll repeat the digital trends survey at regular intervals to track the progress of the civil service as it seeks to meet the ambitious commitments made in the Civil Service Reform Plan. And in future posts I will be highlighting other issues raised in the survey including understanding of users (including digital exclusion) and the setting of robust and relevant measures of success. So watch this space!

Read the full survey report ‘2015 Digital Trends Survey‘.

Fostering innovation in Government

Efficient, personalised public services require innovation to be part of everyday business. That requires an approach which incentivises and encourages learning, change and improvement but which does not crowd out local innovation with central direction. We know from the experience of working with government to deliver business process and technology transformation that a focus on outcomes is critical.

Innovation starts with a responsiveness to the public and to users. More and more, the public’s ideas, ambitions, aspirations and resources are the source of inspiration for how public services can change. We must help unlock a different kind of relationship between government and citizens. Choice and competition are important ingredients. But we must move beyond consultation to conversation and collaboration. The success of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and their digital transformation agenda is a relentless focus on users and their willingness to have a dialogue leading to change, rather than a culture of ‘we know best’.

Second, we know government is full of talented and passionate teams who are committed to radically improving the services they deliver. But processes and systems can sometimes prevent good ideas from taking root and spreading. Innovators at all levels of government – local leaders, service professionals and citizens themselves – need more support to flourish. In other blogs we have highlighted the work of our Digital User Experience team, that adopts and extends the standards set by Government, working to meet customer expectations by researching target markets, rapidly prototyping and helping civil servants to visualise ideas, create usable and intuitive designs and delivering multi-platform solutions.

Third, we have to make sure that government at the centre is supporting innovation. The UK must be the best place in the world to run an innovative public service. As budgets are squeezed, new approaches are even more vital to improve the efficiency and quality of services, tackle strategic challenges and build new kinds of services for a new global economy. Innovative approaches will be focused on addressing long-term challenges, such as the need to reduce re-offending and promote social cohesion. For example, we are working with private and third sector organisations to explore how digital and mobile technologies can promote nudge behaviour and promote self-help within the offender community.

Finally, changes in people’s expectations and knowledge, combined with technology are revolutionising the way people find solutions to problems and support each other. Much innovation in society is undertaken through new channels such as online communities. For example, hundreds of thousands of people share practical ideas through sites such as netmums.com or moneysavingexpert.com. These and other channels could enable the public to engage with government much more effectively. Government must move further from traditional one-way consultation to a genuine two-way conversation and collaboration with citizens. And better engagement is needed for service redesign, encouraging front-line public servants to come forward with their own ideas on how to cut waste and continually improve services, along the lines of ‘lean’ initiatives.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.