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.

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.