Why I signed the Digital Inclusion Charter

Like so many others, I spent most of my commute this morning in the digital world – powered by the smartphone technology in my hand and the invisible tendrils of communication in the air all around us.

As I left the house, I remembered my still snoozing son was collecting an award at his school this morning so sent him a message of support and a request for excited updates later in the day.  A quick check of the transport network showed my train was on time, but I was not – so I picked up my walking pace to ensure I didn’t miss it.  Once on the train, a reminder prompted me to pay an outstanding bill – a few clicks, then done.  Leaving time to review my diary for the day, coordinate a weekend outing with a few friends via Facebook (clearly I’m getting old) and manage a quick scan of various  news-feeds all before the train pulled into London.  Whilst walking to catch my usual bus, my Fitbit app pings me – I am close to hitting my weekly step target but need to push – so I ditch the bus and decide to walk to the office instead!

Many of us will have our own variations on this kind of journey – each with different apps, activities and platforms supporting the engagements we choose – but all with the common thread that being ‘being connected’ is now a ubiquitous part of our daily lives.

Being connected feels great…

Being connected feels like the future…

Being connected empowers us to make more efficient use of our time and more informed choices…

… and of course it now drives our expectations.  When our retailers began offering online services, we expected our banks to.  And when they did, why not our insurers, our healthcare providers, our travel agents,  our schools?  Now we expect it everywhere, including our Public Services.

Millions of people interact with government every year. We pay our taxes and apply for tax credits. We look for jobs and make benefit claims. We need passports and driving licenses. Last year over 1.7 billion government transactions were completed at a cost of £7.1 billion and over three quarters of those transactions were completed online.

This is great news for those who are connected… BUT there are over 7 million adults in the UK who are not. Over 7 million adults defined as digitally excluded, primarily because of a lack of access to the internet.

7 million people. That’s why we’ve signed the Government’s Digital Inclusion Charter

There are digitally excluded people within all communities of the UK but older people and those that are economically disadvantaged are more likely to be so.  There are also 11 million adults in the UK who need some assistance to interact with government online.

The implications for government are enormous.  The estimated benefit to the UK economy of getting one million new people online (assuming 70% become regular internet users) is £1.5 billion. If we enabled the digitally excluded to change just one of the interactions that they have with government from a face-to-face or paper interaction to an online interaction the government would save £900 million a year.

The implications for society are equally significant.  Every consumer who is online saves on average £560 a year by shopping around and looking at deals.  The poorest families could save over £300 if they were online[4]. Children who do not have access to the internet are at a disadvantage – over a million children’s exam results will be on average a grade lower than their peers every year because they do not have internet access at home.

Severe implications. That’s why we’ve signed the Government’s Digital Inclusion Charter

In our day jobs at Sopra Steria we deliver technology and business services across the public sector trying to help government make all our lives better and safer.  Across both public and private sector,  we have great staff with valuable digital skills and an in-depth understanding of the needs of their many users in many walks of life. Underpinning that, sustainability has been a core part of our ethos in Sopra Steria for many years.

  • We actively support local communities with initiatives including working with local schools to support their technology education programmes, encouraging girls to consider careers in IT,  offering technology and business apprenticeships to local young people, supporting communities and charities through our annual Community Matters activities, and in India, helping improve the lives of over 66,000 children by giving them access to education – including IT education
  • We’ve cut our carbon emissions by 48% in 6 years, made all our Datacentre services CarbonNeutral® by default since 2013 and scored a perfect score of 100A in CDP Climate Change in both 2013 and 2014 – joining the CDP’s  ‘A List Report’ as a result
  • We are also an active member and sponsor of Digital Leaders in the UK and work with that community looking at all aspects of the Digital Transformation agenda including the challenges of digital exclusion

All of our experiences and initiatives have shown us the real difference people can make when they work together – the digital inclusion challenge cannot be solved by any single person or organisation alone, but I believe it can be solved by many people and organisations working together…

We must fix it together. That’s why we’ve signed the Government’s Digital Inclusion Charter

Are you signing the Digital Inclusion Charter? Leave a message below or contact me by email.

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.

Mind the GaaP – shared technology platforms and data analytics

The outcome of the government’s digital strategy has been higher adoption of on-line services and the introduction of new technologies – including social media, mobility, analytics and cloud computing. But as government delivers services that are simpler, clearer and faster to use it also creates increased expectations.

First, citizens demand services that are often universal but also reflect the levels of personalisation they get as private consumers. But government operates as a series of silos. Services, processes and technology reflect inward-looking departmental needs.

Second, the public finances demand that government boost productivity using innovative digital technologies. The government saved £18.6 billion in 2014-15 through various reform projects. But the savings attributable to digital transformation are significant but relatively small (£391m).

In an environment of increasing citizen demands and top-down cost reductions, how can technology help government be more responsive but at least cost?

Government as a Platform might reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and costs

Two years ago the Government Digital Service (GDS) set out to transform twenty-five major public services. Twenty digital ‘exemplars’ are now publicly accessible. GDS continues to work with departments to build these and other services in agile and iterative ways.

The next phase of the government’s strategy is ‘Government as a Platform’ (GaaP). This is the sharing of the core infrastructure of systems, technology and processes across departments. GOV.UK Verify is a good example. Rather than having to prove who you are to every government department, Verify uses certified companies (and public and private sector data) to confirm a person’s identify once and for all. Other potential platforms are payment processing, case management and appointment bookings – common services used all around government.

GaaP offers a number of potential benefits. First, enhanced user satisfaction by eliminating the need for a citizen to input unnecessary data and information. Second, cost savings by eliminating administrative procedures and processes (and associated transactions) that are not needed. Third, wider economic benefits by making the data open, as others who are unrelated to government can create new businesses that complement public services. Forth, citizens or community groups might also use this data to hold government to account.

Tailored and automated services offer even greatest benefits

In the private sector an ability to share systems and data through technology is leading to a more personalised service. A user is in full control of navigating, choosing and terminating a set of offers. Back-office integration enables the private sector to offer proactive, enhanced and efficient services.

How might this approach be applied in the public sector? At its most simple, the government might pre-fill data in an application form that it already possesses, based on taxation or benefit entitlements, and notify the citizen via email or text of any changes. But more significant improvements to the quality and cost of public services are available through the analysis of this data (a data platform), leading to earlier and more focused interventions.

For example, approximately 40% of hospital admissions in England are unplanned admissions. They are a problem for hospitals because they are costly and disruptive and increase waiting times. Vulnerable patients with complex physical or mental health needs tend to be the biggest problem.

The detailed analysis of historic patient level data, identification of patterns and predictive risk modelling can predict and identify ‘at risk’ individuals. Unplanned admissions can then be avoided through changes to the hospital discharge process and better co-ordination of care.

Taking it to the next level, ICT-enabled simulation and decision-support tools are also able to analyse large and complex socio-economic data sets on deprivation, crime, health, education, etc. This deeper analysis can inform early intervention and screening programmes, with resources focused on communities and individuals who most need them.

Costs can be avoided by highlighting incidences of unnecessary care or delays in treatment. And by making evidence-based information about options, outcomes and uncertainties available, patients are also in a better position to make informed choices about the treatments available to them.

This proactive approach may not be appropriate for all types of service. It will, for example, depend on access to necessary data and protection and legal access. But, when applied to high-risk and often disproportionately high cost individuals, the savings potentially far outweigh the up-front costs of investment.

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Improving outcomes with multi agency partners

I was recently speaking to a senior local government officer about her experiences of the difficulties in creating shared services and multi-agency arrangements with local organisations. We agreed that the logic of collaboration to improve performance and generate efficiencies is compelling, but in practice achieving such arrangements has proved to be more complicated. We concluded that although the business logic is often sound one of the biggest hurdles to climb is the practical issues that often have to be overcome to create collaboration.

These difficulties may surface because of differing priorities, differing funding methods, complexity or just simply due to timing.

Recently Sopra Steria has been considering how our experience in developing IT and digital solutions can support the development of the multi-agency arrangements that are becoming more and more important in improving outcomes in some of our most crucial public services. Increasingly, agencies are coming together to ensure that by working more closely together they can improve outcomes to particularly vulnerable sections of the community. We see many excellent examples of partner organisations coming together to break down traditional barriers to put the service to the customer to the fore- front.

However, as in my recent conversation, we often hear how difficult it is to achieve and also how difficult it is to achieve the desired outcomes even when arrangements are developed. It has become clear that whilst multi agency approaches are now being seen primarily to support safeguarding and protection agendas. There is also further opportunity to embed the approach across the public sector to improve wider outcomes and to perhaps support more efficient ways to deliver diverse services.

We have considered how we can best support multi agency arrangements through initiatives such as improved use of shared data to support strong business intelligence and analytics that can help to predict and understand service demand. But, in a recent thought leadership paper, we have also considered seven key steps to consider when planning and implementing a multi-agency initiative. We believe that these steps will help put multi-agency programmes on the right footing from the outset, and create an environment where the specific challenges can be openly and constructively addressed.

  1. Challenge the way things are done culturally – treat it as a cultural and business process change programme for all, rather than imposing any one approach
  2. Contain multi-agency initiatives within relatively small localities – use data analysis to agree an operational boundary based on common need, not organisational simplicity
  3. Build services around the individual – involve service users in the design process
  4. Understand stakeholder needs – build a vision that can be shared by all
  5. Think collaboratively as part of your stakeholder awareness – agree which services are best delivered together – from a strategic and operational perspective
  6. Develop data sharing protocols – agree how data about an individual will be shared securely to deliver the best results
  7. Include cross-sector partners from the public, private and third sectors – consider innovative contractual arrangements that share risk or reward outcomes

Read more in my thought leadership paper “Embedding the Multi-Agency approach” and I welcome feedback on the seven step approach and your view on whether this is useful or if we can improve it from your own experiences. Leave  a reply below or contact me by email.

The “observer effect” applied to digital transformation

A different take on GDS’s Performance Platform

The “observer effect” states that whatever you observe, by the very act of observation, it changes. Developing tools to measure the performance of a digital transformation – such as the GDS Performance Platform – is a key step of any transformation journey itself, as it can accelerate the process and guide it to bear positive outcomes.

The act of measuring is change itself

In science, the term “observer effect” refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. A commonplace example is checking the pressure in a car’s tyre: this is difficult to do without letting out some of the air, thus changing the pressure.

The GDS’s Performance Platform

Started as a simple dashboard to display web traffic data on gov.uk, the Government Digital Service (GDS) Performance Platform has now become a key tool that gives departments the ability to monitor the performance of their digital services in real time, aggregating data from a range of sources including web analytics, survey and finance data.

The digital by default service standard – a set of criteria for all government services to meet – now mandates the following four key performance indicators (KPIs): cost per transaction, user satisfaction, completion rate, digital take-up. These KPIs can be used to measure the success of a service and to support decisions and planning of improvements.

Similar to the tyre pressure, the very act of measuring those indicators is influencing and accelerating the transformation process, focusing the departments’ attention to delivering efficiency and quality of service to citizens. This is a key enabler of any transformation journey and it will be interesting to see how far the Performance Platform will go in the coming years.

(Note: although this example is specific to the public sector, the above is easily applicable to private organisations too – this will the subject of another blog post).

Where next? The difference between performance and evaluation

Performance measurement and evaluation are complementary activities. Evaluation gives meaning to performance measurement and performance measurement gives empirical rigour (evidence) to evaluation.

Performance measurements do not question the objectives themselves and, therefore, stop short of any final judgement as to whether the programme or activity was good or bad – only if it was successful (or not) within the narrow confines of its mandate.

The current debate on Gov2.0/Government as a Platform is precisely around the purpose of governments in the 21st century, with two schools of thoughts arguing that it’s the profitable thing to do or, well, it’s the right thing to do.

Although a clear approach on how to evaluate the impacts this approach will have on the wider society is not yet agreed, tools such as the Performance Platform can and will inform and support this discussion.

What do you think? Does this capture the distinction between programme evaluation and performance measurement – or is there a lot more to it? Is your organisation measuring the performance of its transformation? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Northern powerhouse: devolution steps up a gear

So what’s all this fuss about a Northern Powerhouse?

The phrase conjures up images of JB Priestley’s polluted industrial landscapes, dark satanic mills, flat caps and ferrets, but this could not be further from the truth. We are talking about corridors of power from Liverpool, through Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield to Hull and Newcastle, based on investment in better infrastructure and building upon the physical and cultural renaissance in the major northern cities.

Lord knows that the regular drivers of trans-Pennine M62 and the rail commuters from Liverpool to Hull will be crying hallelujah for the investment in the connections between cities. Never have so many people languished for so long in the packed carriages and car park mimicking roads of the UK countryside. In Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s words: “The transport network in the north is simply not fit for purpose.” It is quicker to travel the 283 miles from London to Paris by train than it is to travel less than half that distance between Liverpool and Hull.

Within 40 miles of Manchester, you have Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire – a belt of cities and towns that contains ten million people – more than Tokyo, New York or London. Sopra Steria’s base in Cheshire supports activity in the public and private sectors, delivering digital solutions to global and regional business problems on a local basis.

But it’s more than investment in the physical environment, it’s also about the devolution of powers to the region. A Minister for the Northern Powerhouse working within the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), a Teeside MP James Wharton, was appointed by government in February and he will oversee the devolving of powers over skills, housing, police, health as well as transport to the northern region. Within a month an interim Mayor will be appointed by council bosses to lead the Greater Manchester Combined Authority before the election of a successor in 2017.

Mr Osborne has promised just over £11m to invest in tech incubators in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield to support SMEs to grow into the engine of the northern powerhouse. Further investment has been promised for a Fintech Innovation Hub focusing on the financial service. His Tech Nation report published in February, noted the 170,000 currently working in digital business. The Budget announcement detailed further investment and support that could be called upon to deliver:

More than ever before, the advantages that digital can bring will need to be applied with vigour. The perceived disadvantages of distance from the financial and business markets of central London will need to be foreshortened through virtual cosiness. The vibrancy of northern business will need to radiate across electronic networks to attract further investment and growth on a global basis to prevent leaching from other UK regions. Devolved development is all about placing the whole of the UK on a higher platform for economic performance.

The public sector could benefit from this burgeoning of local digital business and innovation as it will face major challenges to meet the demands of the northern citizenry while managing within an ever tightening public purse. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority will be fully responsible for how this transformation of the public services unfolds, and the scrutiny of this change will be acute, particularly with the health and social care services at a cost of £6bn. Other regions, such as Wales, have felt this high degree of scrutiny over their stewardship of health services and been found lacking, so the achievement bar is high.

The potential is there for a Northern Powerhouse, supported by digital innovation, emerging and pioneering business and local democratic muscle, that develops its own wealth-generation and shapes public services to reflect the needs of their local communities.

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

Why I signed the Digital Participation Charter

I am a great believer that digital has the opportunity to reduce costs, improve services and change lives.

I had to renew my kids’ passports recently. My experience was that the on-line form was simple and quick to complete, gave me a copy for my own records by default and then a text message received to let me know that the form had been approved and the new document being printed. Left me feeling reassured and impressed by the government service. Not an outcome I was expecting I have to admit.

Sopra Steria is company that works with organisations to make best use of technology to support their business, reduce costs and implement digital solutions. We are advocates for the use of technology to reduce cost and improve services.

To me the public sector has no choice but to ‘go digital’. Not only does it give the opportunity for services improvement, such as the passport office example, it is also by going digital that we can reduce the cost of services, which unless we do we will be cutting services.

But in forging ahead we have a social responsibility to those who we are potentially leaving behind. We have to provide support to bring as many people with us as we can. To me, it is those who we often refer to as the digitally excluded who have the most to gain from digital participation. I have met carers who feeling isolated at home gained a support network on-line, older people with grandchildren far away being able to Skype chat and disabled people who can’t speak or write be able to communicate.

Sopra Steria has signed Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter to pledge our support to achieving this aim. As an IT services organisation we have staff with very valuable digital skills. Just giving a little of their time, could help someone get on-line or better still train someone who works with the socially disadvantaged on a daily basis.

So I urge all to sign the Digital Participation Charter. Be an advocate for bringing the opportunities that digital has to offer to as many in our society as we can. With as many of us doing what we can, we have an opportunity to make a big difference.