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.