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.

2017: the year of user productivity transformation – and more…?

I don’t think I can consider 2017 without first looking briefly at 2016. It is safe to say that 2016 was an interesting year across the public sector with some major tectonic sized decisions and changes.  What these will mean are still to be understood, and my colleague Steve Knights has a look at some of these in his blog ‘2017: An exceptional year of change‘.

Like the political arena, technology throughout the year has also been interesting and challenging and Local Government entities throughout the UK have taken some major steps towards embracing ‘Digital’ in the delivery of services across all aspects of their operations.

With the challenges being placed on budgets, Local Government is having to become more creative in how it utilises technology to support employees, operate the business and deliver services to a widening variety of citizen needs. Our London DigiLab innovation centre, is hosting increasing numbers of authorities eager to discuss their issues and look at opportunities to save and improve.  It is providing an important forum to help them look differently at what they do and is enabling us to identify different ways of working and new technologies that will deliver lasting benefits to their organisations and services they deliver.

2016 saw some major players in the technology sphere bring in new offerings which have the potential to change how core digital services are offered.  Microsoft opened their UK data centres offering Azure and Office365 capabilities, with a roadmap of a lot more services to be deployed throughout 2017.  IBM are bringing their Watson Cognitive technologies to UK shores, and Amazon Web Services will be opening UK data centres.  With the implications of Brexit still unknown, this collective of UK centric technology offerings will give local authorities more options to protect their data and systems.

Some of the technology trends which we saw during 2016 will continue well into 2017 and beyond. They have the potential to change how citizens engage with public services, but the biggest changes will be in how employees and businesses operate.

2017 will be the year of user productivity transformation, Systems of Intelligence and Business as a Service.

Microsoft’s Azure, Office365 and Dynamics365 offerings have matured to significant levels, giving organisations a new opportunity to embrace the possibilities of Cloud on-demand operations.

Cognitive systems, or Systems of Intelligence, started to appear as mature service proposals during 2016, but the take up has been slow as organisations struggle to understand how these can be used within existing operations.  Throughout 2017 we will see more Machine Learning and Cognitive-based offerings becoming mainstream in the business operations across local government. IBM Watson will be leading the charge as this is the most mature of the current public domain Cognitive offerings, but Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite is also maturing at a rate and will start to offer more Machine Learning services. Google’s Deep Mind is the wild card and we will have to wait and see how this will become available.  Apple will continue to explore the Artificial Intelligence space with Siri becoming more useful as a Digital Personal Assistant helping us do more with our time.

Data will continue to grow in importance and will focus on generating Actionable Intelligence using Machine Learning systems to derive insight. It will give Local Government an opportunity to look at how it can embrace a more open data culture to bring their rich datasets together in a way that can help them understand and tackle challenging areas.

How services are offered and consumed by citizens will also go through transformation as Micro Services Architecture is embraced. This will enable focused tackling of discrete aspects of service before they are then aggregated into a collective solution. Personalisation will become more of a need than a nice to have and data will be key to helping drive this understanding and service delivery model.

In summary, 2016 was a good year as organisational thinking around the use of technology matured and evolved bringing more options, solutions, innovation and ultimately beneficial outcomes. 2017 is when Systems of Intelligence will provide opportunities for the public sector to deliver more user-centric, personalised and contextual services. Some of the key technology areas that will help Local Government with this are:

  • Machine Learning – to help provide a more personalised experience which is agnostic of service delivery channels
  • On-Demand Services – to enable employees, managers and citizens to access the things they need
  • Choose Your Own model – to provide a more flexible and responsive IT function that supports employees in doing their jobs more efficiently and productively
  • Micro Services Architecture – to change the way services are designed to remove the complexity of large system redevelopment
  • API First – to provide a more dynamic approach to systems integration
  • Device agnostic services – to remove the barriers to individuals accessing the facilities they need, when they need them, through whatever means works for them

Thinking and acting differently

There is no doubt that technology has a significant role to play in helping local government achieve the savings they need, and that though a strategic approach to delivering digital services at scale, authorities can realise significant benefits.

At Sopra Steria we are seeing local authorities thinking differently about how they can approach their current challenges and looking to external partners to help them embrace a more agile service delivery model.

What are your thoughts for Local Government as we head into 2017? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

2017: An exceptional year of change

In recent years digital technologies have driven an extraordinary pace of change in the way we do business, live our lives and interact with each other. According to a report conducted by digital and marketing intelligence group eMarketer, e-commerce sales will this Christmas exceed 20% of total retail sales during November and December, an estimated £16.9 million of online sales. This continues a year on year upward trend for retail digital transactions that shows no signs of slowing.

The challenge for Local Government is to keep up with this trend and match the expectations of their citizens who increasingly want digital solutions to all of their business interactions.

For many reasons 2017 looks to be a pivotal year for Local Government.

New structural changes such as Devolution will give both opportunities and challenges, particularly in the way that large scale infrastructure projects are commissioned and delivered. Transport improvements will offer not only a major boost to the construction industries throughout the development phase, but upon completion will deliver the connectivity – both nationally and internationally – needed for economic growth.

Key customer-facing services such as the delivery of welfare benefits are at the forefront of the introduction of digital services to both improve the point of contact with the customer but also to streamline the delivery of crucial benefits to those in need. Likewise, the pressures on health services are increasingly being addressed with digital solutions that can help to relieve the unsustainable demands placed on our doctors and nurses.

But as well as the transformational changes that we are seeing in the way that we do business, 2017 also brings us exceptional political change.

A Trump presidency and Brexit are likely to overshadow both world and domestic politics for many years to come.

As we enter this year of change, we offer – by means of a short video – a few thoughts on some of these issues.

What is absolutely certain is that by the time we reach 2018 we will be entering a very different world to the one we leave in 2016. The period of change in between will be 2017 – so be ready for a roller coaster ride!

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

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.

Accelerating my career – taking next steps with Sopra Steria

I’m a Junior PMO Analyst in Belfast, and I’ve recently joined the Sopra Steria Graduate Programme. Previously, I was a graduate project manager with Hewlett Packard Enterprise working on a range of hardware and software infrastructure projects. I am really looking forward to learning and working with the Regional Government team in Belfast and this short blog outlines my experiences to date in my new role.

The beginning: Edinburgh

Monday 4th July 2016 finally arrived – a date to remember for me and 32 other graduates beginning their career with Sopra Steria in various streams including Project Management, Java, Testing, Business Analysis, UI, SAS and GIS.

The induction was a great start to joining the company. ‘Day One’ allowed us to gain an in-depth overview of our new company – which markets we are active in, the services and solutions we provide and highlighted the opportunities for us to develop within the company. But, more importantly, it allowed us to get to know our future colleagues on a personal level as these will be who we’ll work alongside for years to come.

There was a social element too – and it was great to have an opportunity to get to know new colleagues in a more relaxed environment, as well as to talk informally to various managers away from the office.

There was a real focus on enabling us as new starters to meet a range of current staff and previous graduates. I learned a lot from asking questions about their roles and the clients that they are working with – a great benefit as they were able to give examples of real-world problems that Sopra Steria solve. During this on-boarding week, we also attended numerous instructor-led courses such as Agile Methodologies, Testing and Corporate Structure – a great foundation to understand more about the way Sopra Steria works and its approach to client engagement. Towards the end of the week, everyone received an overview of their next eight weeks in terms of scheduled training. Mine is a mix of on-the-job learning and understanding the core project management fundamentals taught within the Association of Project Management Professionals study guide.

As we said goodbye to our new colleagues and friends and I realised that I had successfully completed my first working week as an employee of Sopra Steria!

Next step: a warm Belfast welcome

As with all new starters, we returned to our contractual offices for our second week of work. For me that’s Belfast and the office is located right in the city centre and a 5-minute walk from the train station. The first few days focused on getting to know my new Belfast colleagues and more about our business in Northern Ireland. As I was being introduced I thought “I am never going to be able to remember everyone’s name!” But thankfully, it’s only taken me five weeks to overcome this. The Belfast office is home to around 80 people, but there are quite a few based on client sites so I am still getting to know new people who only occasionally work in the office.

When I was in Edinburgh during the on-boarding week I learned that the Belfast office and staff had the reputation for a sweet tooth and that any time they visited there were always cakes, buns and biscuits on offer. I found this very much the case! In the short spell I have been in the Belfast office we buy buns and cakes to celebrate pretty much anything – whether it’s a promotion, leaving party or someone’s birthday and just in case we are running short on these events there is a monthly bake-off between members of staff for bragging rights in the office. There have been rumours of a graduate bake-off happening in the near future, but I see myself eating cakes rather than making them!

As I continued to find my feet within the project management team I was gradually given an overview of each regional government client we work with and invited to attend meetings regarding upcoming projects which gave a realistic view of the projects I would be getting involved in. These face-to-face meetings are a great benefit as they allow me to see where various departments and teams within Sopra Steria fit and come together to complete projects, they are also a good way to meet the key decision-makers from a customer perspective and introduce yourself.

Everyone has been very friendly, helpful and welcoming. I’ve really valued the many offers of support from across the team and guidance to help build my new career. I’ve had some key pieces of advice:

  1. make the most of any opportunity that presents itself
  2. be responsible for driving my own career
  3. don’t be afraid to contribute by sharing ideas or thoughts on promoting or enhancing Sopra Steria. It’s great to know that at such an early stage in my career and being so new into the business that my opinion counts.

I’ve been assigned work on two different local government projects and I’m really looking forward to getting involved and understanding these accounts in more detail. Project Management is very much a learning through experience stream, reading books and attending courses is beneficial – but you really learn by doing.

I’m also really impressed with Sopra Steria’s policy on developing and enhancing employees’ talents by encouraging attendance at workshops and training courses to attain professional certification. I’m attending a 3-day Project Management course in mid-September and I am looking forward to meeting up with the other project management new starters from other organisations, while enhancing my knowledge and skills in this field.

My first six weeks at Sopra Steria have flown by – it only seems like yesterday I was travelling to Edinburgh for my induction. In this time, I’ve really settled into my new surroundings and role and am extremely excited for the future – on a personal level for continuing to develop my project management skills and for Sopra Steria as a company continuing to work on innovative and exciting solutions for our clients.


If you, or someone you know, has graduated recently and looking for exciting opportunities, why not take a look at this year’s Graduate Recruitment programme?