Developing a digital culture to meet citizen expectations in Local Government services

Originally published as a guest blog on techUK Insights

A recent conversation with a Local Government IT manager led me to consider again what ‘digital’ means and what digital transformation means to the way that we deliver local services.

My colleague argued that ‘digital’ is just an expression of new technologies, and digital innovation could be best expressed in traditional IT terms, after all the IT world has always embraced change and new ideas.

I accept that it is certainly true that technology is important to deliver the ‘digital revolution’ and new technologies form the bedrock on which transformation is built.

But I would suggest that digital transformation is not primarily about technology changes but by the changes we observe in culture, communication, consumerism and the unprecedented transformation of society’s operating model.

The ubiquitous and unprecedented scale of societal change has happened in just the last five to ten years, and it’s getting more difficult to remember a life before Apple, Google, Facebook and Instagram.

In Local Government, where digital transformation is looking to leave a lasting and sustainable legacy that genuinely improves citizens’ lives and futures, the Sopra Steria approach has certainly been to make the best use of available technologies, but has always been supported by a strong business spine. We have endeavored to match both the ambitions of our clients with the desire of their stakeholders to consume services in the ways that they are increasingly using to access other markets. Game changing platforms such as Facebook, Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon do not allow other providers of goods and services to continue with traditional methods and still retain happy customers. For these and other digital leaders, digital transformation has been powered by an enormous leap in customer expectation.

In Local Government this customer expectation across a diverse range of services is also driving change and we see many different approaches to delivering digital business strategies.

So how should Local Government drive through this digital change?

We recognise four key ingredients for success which concentrate on how digital can transform the way Councils and their citizens both provide, and receive, services. They recognise that it needs careful planning if it is to provide real, useful, affordable and usable alternatives to the current methodologies.

1. Make the most of existing technology

The first stage focuses on long term planning, and encourages the immediate use of facilities already available within existing technology applications and platforms to ensure that current investment is used to its full potential. This approach encourages quick wins at low cost.

2. Small step transformation

At stage two, we start to enhance the physical service delivery with digital content, taking small manageable steps towards digital transformation. The intention is to enhance the customer experience by increasing the ability to interact with the council online and to start to introduce new ways of working.

3. Re-imagining delivery

Stage three makes greater and greater use of a redesigned on- line presence to replace or extend existing physical processes with digital operations and digital enablers. This would be visible through continuous customer improvement processes that increase customer contacts through digital access channels and offers the digital fulfilment of service requests. Where appropriate, the web will become the default channel of choice, allowing greater service time and funding to be diverted to supporting more vulnerable citizens.

4. A digital business

The final stage of the digital transformation is to develop new digital business and operating models that reach the full potential of the digital environment without just reflecting and duplicating existing physical process.

The activity would be to redesign existing business structures to take full advantage of a digital approach to service delivery. This may take the form of working with partners to improve business outcomes by sharing data and processes. It may consider new commissioning models that are not restricted by traditional barriers but that continue to improve service delivery whilst also reducing operating costs.

The world is changing and digital is changing the ways that we work, rest and play. In another five years we will look back at an unprecedented period of change. Let’s make sure that Local Government is able to embrace the opportunity to deliver lasting and sustainable change today and provide that solid foundation for the next revolution – whatever that may be.

The clock is ticking!

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

If you’re not assessing you’re guessing: the value of an evidence based approach to strategic resource allocation

There are signs at my gym, that say ‘If you’re not assessing you’re guessing’. It’s something that is easy to ignore in your personal life, but in a business context measurement is becoming mission critical. At the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales (PSAEW) Annual Conference last week, there’s been considerable talk about stretched resources – starting with the opening speech from the President of the Association, Gareth Thomas.

“I suggest we have a perfect storm developing, comprised of fewer resources, reduced public services, new threats, and a worrying increase in some types of traditional crime. If the model for delivering policing services in the future is fewer people, working longer, each doing ever more, then I suggest that model is fundamentally flawed.”

Other presentations and conversations also highlighted the fatigue officers are feeling from heavy workloads and indeed 72.2% of respondents to the 2017 Police Federation Pay and Morale Survey said that their workload had increased in the last year.

With talk of fewer resources and overworked officers and teams, the importance of measurement takes another dimension, with forces needing to have access to the evidence which not only enables them to clearly understand the impact of changing demand and resource levels for budgeting purposes, but also helps them to balance the welfare of officers.

For the team at Cleveland Police, this ‘Evidence Based approach to strategic resource allocation’ is something that they’ve been working on for some time. In one of the breakout sessions at the PSAEW Conference Brian Thomas, Assistant Chief Officer at Cleveland Police shared his force’s story about the great strides they’ve taken in organisational planning and how this has had a huge impact in working with teams across the force to take some of the stress out of resource decision making.

Supported by a new tool, PrediKt developed in conjunction with Sopra Steria, Brian and his team are able to operate in a more informed way.

He shared three areas where the force is now regularly using PrediKt:

Reality testing – Validating actual performance against planned performance. It is giving an evidence base to quickly identify what teams are busy doing and, through a dashboard, they have information which highlights automatically when teams’ actual workload is outstripping their resource. An example is when Neighbourhood teams are recording a greater percentage of response work and less time on preventative activities. The force is now able investigate the reasons behind the inconsistency and put action plans in place to resolve the issue.

Evidence based resource planning – moving from examining performance at an individual team level, here Cleveland Police are now able to examine resourcing at an organisational level and look at different scenarios based around the changing shape of crime, for example the impact of an increase in domestic burglary and how resources can be reallocated across the Force to ensure the workload is balanced across all teams and crime types.

Futures planning – the final example was to examine a resource profile change and identify what future resource profiling could look like if we need to increase training days per annum for example to comply with new statutory course requirements. A further example was what would be the impact of reducing officer numbers.

It’s clear that workload isn’t decreasing, as NPCC Chief Sara Thornton told the conference, ‘everybody knows what police should do more of; few say what we could do less of’. The final presentations also brought home the reality of cyber crime and the changing nature of crime, which will have a huge impact on policing and resourcing in the future.

It’s a world where forces really should be ‘assessing and not guessing’.

Getting a formal evidence base will transform resourcing so forces can truly assess the impact of changes to demand and resource levels, as well as helping to balance the welfare of officers.

Find more about PrediKt, Sopra Steria’s Police Resource and Demand Modelling Tool or contact me by email.

Reinventing business models: what can the public sector learn from digital disruption of business?

In my last blog I wrote about how government is challenged by technological change and globalisation. I now want to explore what governments might learn from the experience of the private sector.

Globalisation is connected to the rise of consumerism. But its attributes of brands, choices, service, access and responsiveness are no longer the preserve of the private sphere.  Increasingly, these attributes define the expectations of the public when they interact with government or use public services.

Unless public services can adapt to these new expectations, the ability to sustain a consensus for the provision of public services free at the point of use may prove impossible in the long term.

Business, of course, has been at the forefront of shaping this ‘new world’. But those forces equally challenge us.

How, for example, does business reform its governance in a way that inspires the trust and confidence of investors and is accountable to employees and the wider public?  How should businesses respond to the opportunities of the global market and new technology, both of which are producing a revolution in the way the business operates?

Let me give you just one example of how these global pressures are influencing business today.

Thirty years ago, businesses could almost entirely rely upon product cycles that lasted for three to five years and business models that could last a decade.  The great companies of the last century created products and refined their supply chains over decades. And they based their business models on relatively stable markets, high barriers to entry and a plentiful supply of relatively unskilled labour.

However many of the most successful companies today are those that have developed a capacity to reinvent themselves – not just once every ten years – but now every eighteen months or two years.

Businesses operate in a global competitive market.  They are challenged to create new value, improve productivity and respond to tomorrow’s customer needs – today.  That global competitive market ensures that today’s businesses simply cannot afford to wait five to ten years to develop a new product cycle or business model. For those companies and communities that are equal to the challenge, this relentless competitive pressure is creating new sources of wealth has increased standards of living.

Next week, I’ll be talking in more detail about innovation and why businesses might have an advantage over the public sector. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.  And if you are interested in public sector innovation you might be interested in another of my recent blogs where I wrote about how businesses learn from mistakes.

The world is still flat: how economic change is straining our ability to remake public services

I want to talk to you about what is arguably the greatest domestic policy challenge facing governments over the next decade.

How to create the conditions for a sustained transformation in our public services in a way consistent with the fundamental values that underpinned their creation.

In this first in a series of blogs, I want to anchor the debate about public service reform in the context of a number of global pressures affecting governments.

Every government is challenged by a similar set of pressures. The most significant of these is when a combination of rapid technological change leads to profound transformation of the economy. This has significantly increased prosperity. But governments are struggling to maintain a consensus of support, particularly as communities experience periods of insecurity and upheaval when technology is introduced.

The change unleashed is provoking tough and searching questions for governments of all political persuasions.

How do we reconcile rising flows of goods, services, capital and labour mobility with the need to create and sustain socially cohesive communities?

At the same time the capacity and capability of health, education, social care, housing and other public services to respond to change is curtailed by continuing austerity. And our ability to build cohesive communities is even more difficult when the very mechanism for reconciling competing tensions within communities – the institution of government and the process of democracy – has never been more questioned.

People’s sense of ‘connectedness’ with government and the political process looks increasingly weak and shattered.

Next week, I’ll post about how business has responded to the challenge of technological change. The most successful businesses are agile – attempting to reinvent their their business model to meet rapidly evolving customer needs.

Meanwhile if you enjoyed this you might also enjoy my summary of our government digital trends survey. We asked civil servants how their work is influenced by new digital ways of working and the benefits for the public

Digital in Government: the next step is true transformation

Have you recently tried to access a government service and wondered why it can’t be as simple and easy as Amazon? Were you frustrated, like me, when required to print, complete and return a physical form rather than fill in a pre-populated online one?

In our recent survey of civil servants we wanted to understand how digital – the powerful combination of disruptive technologies underpinned by new business models – was being adopted across government. How is government seeking to enhance digital customer experience by optimising its digital infrastructure and insight from analytics?

Transformation = Restructure

Our Government Digital Trends Survey of nearly 4,500 civil servants over three years found they have a consistent understanding of what digital means. The most popular definitions chosen were ‘restructuring services’ followed by ‘improving online services’.

With government facing pressures from multiple directions, not least the challenge of implementing a successful exit from the European Union, civil servants view digital transformation as a win-win. Not only can it improve the quality of service that citizens receive, through the development of more convenient delivery models, but these same models can help government to reduce their costs.

But the sheer scale of changes facing the government means that the civil service needs to think harder about the way it works.

Breaking down ‘stove-pipe’ government

Adding to the skills gap I described in my previous blog, there are in-built structural challenges across government. Public services tend to adhere to ‘stove-piped’ models that have largely been left untouched for decades.

Departmental structures encourage civil servants to focus purely on their own priorities. The organisation of government provides little opportunity to consider how citizens’ needs cut across departmental boundaries.

The good news is that civil servants view the collection of data that underpins their operations as a core process. In 2017, civil servants told us that the most significant benefits of ‘big data’ were reducing expenditure (29%) and improving operational efficiency (21%). But opportunities for innovation in new processes (7%) and improving customer engagement (3%) trailed far behind.

Data-enabled government is needed

This example highlights the challenge and opportunity of digital transformation in government. A more innovative approach, such as a single interface for collecting data, is not only a source of efficiency. It allows government to remove the duplication of effort and provides a catalyst for the development of end-to-end processes that place the needs of citizens at the centre.

As government is understandably cautious by nature, digital transformation was initially limited to narrow front-end activities. The focus was on creating digital channels to ‘bolt on’ existing business processes, rather than redesigning processes endto end.

Yet government benefits from being one of the most ‘data-rich’ organisations. The growing number of data sets that are now generated, through the automation of processes, create huge opportunities to drive digital transformation. The Policy Exchange think tank suggested that the UK government could save up to £33 billion through improved data use.

What does data enabled digital government look like?

I think there is an urgent need for the joining and sharing of data across government to help civil and other public servants to plan more effective services targeted at those most in need.

There are several aspects to this data enabled digital government, including:

  1. Predictive analytics: Human resources tend to represent the largest single source of costs for government. Predictive analytics can maximise the efficiency of operations and improve workforce utilisation (helping government do more with – more often than not – less).
  2. Coordinated government analytics: Sharing data across government organisations drives benefits by avoiding the duplication of effort. But going beyond efficiency, the creation of cloud-based big data hubs leads to more personalised and targeted services.

And tailored and preventative approaches are urgently needed to address high cost social issues such as troubled families and health problems such as obesity. Predictive and coordinated analytics lend themselves to addressing these so called ‘wicked issues’ because they are so complex, fast moving and they involve changing the behaviour or gaining the commitment of individual citizens.

If you would like more information about the Government Digital Trends Survey, or would just like to raise a question, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.

Government needs to invest and build digital skills across government – the view of civil servants

Having the right skills and capacities to hand is pivotal to the effective digital transformation of government. For the past three years, we have asked civil servants to tell us how government is adapting to changing digital skills needs as part of our Government Digital Trends Survey.

The most startling finding from this year’s survey is a rise in the number of civil servants who say that a lack of training is a barrier to digital transformation

Lack of available skills continues to be a barrier to transformation

In 2017, 62% of civil servants placed lack of training for staff among the top three barriers to digital transformation of government. Despite a significant increase in training over the last twelve months, 43% of respondents told us that they had not received enough digital training to do their job well (an increase of 6% points since 2015). When asked about whether they personally receive adequate digital skills training to do their job, the number agreeing was just 12% (a decrease from 20% since 2016).

Seeking to fill this digital skills gap, we found that civil servants are taking a proactive approach to skills acquisition:

36% are using self-directed study in their own time to develop their digital skills (an increase of 12% points since 2015)

Civil servants are calling out a lack of specialist digital skills

Several types of skills are needed: technical and professional skills, including ICT specialist skills for workers who drive innovation and support digital infrastructures and the functioning of the digital services. This year we asked civil servants, including those working in digital programmes, to identify the top three digital skills gaps in their organisation.

Development and service design were the most popular answers, chosen by 44% of respondents. The next most common answers were agile delivery management (37%), user research and technical architecture (36% each).

To seize the benefits of digital, government needs these in-demand specialists: workers who can code, develop applications, manage networks and analyse data, among other skills. These skills enable innovation to flourish, often in collaboration with the private and not-for-profit sectors, but also support the infrastructure that government and users rely on.

What are the priority skills policies to meet these challenges?

Addressing the challenges of digital will require an overhaul of government’s skills policies. It must ensure that an increasingly digital world yields better quality jobs and that civil servants have the means to take advantage of the new job opportunities that open up.

In my opinion there are five priorities for skill policies to facilitate take-up of these opportunities:

  1. Part of the task is to ensure that all civil servants have basic ICT skills as well as solid problem-solving skills to use ICT effectively. Many of these skills are also acquired outside education and training institutions – for instance, and as we have found through the survey, in the workplace. Government could support and better recognise skills acquired by civil servants outside formal channels.
  2. It is not just sufficient for civil servants to have skills – government must fully use these skills to reap their benefits in terms of higher productivity. The use of digital skills, including problem solving in a technologically rich environment, varies substantially across the civil service. A key factor driving this variation is the use of high performance work practices such as teamwork, work autonomy, training, flexible work hours, etc.
  3. For ICT specialist skills, basic programming is no longer enough. For instance, advanced engineering and experience with machine-learning are increasingly important. In addition, ICT specialists also need domain-specific knowledge, given the potential applications of ICT in the business of government, such as health, education and welfare.
  4. Government needs to better assess and anticipate changing skills needs in order to adapt programmes and pathways offered and guide civil servants towards choices that lead to better outcomes. By including all stakeholders in skills assessment exercises government can ensure that the information collected is useful and that policies respond to actual needs. This includes working closely with industry to address shortages in areas of strategic importance.
  5. As skills demands change continuously, training for civil service to keep up with new skills requirements is crucial. This requires offering better incentives for civil servants to re-skill and up-skill. And includes, for example, the government fully supporting and embracing the Digital Academy initiative in the Government Digital Service (GDS).

If you would like more information about our Government Digital Trends Survey, or would just like to raise a question or add information, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.

The journey towards government digital transformation: three years of data highlight the scale of change

Digital transformation is the buzz phrase of the moment – the only way to stay relevant in 2017. In January 2013, the government gave itself 400 days to transform 25 major services, making them simpler, clearer and faster to use. Fast forward to February 2017 and the priority is even more ambitious – to change the culture and ways of working of the public sector. With technology as an enabler.

Truly transforming government through the power of digital technologies will inevitably take time.

Over the last three years we have surveyed nearly 4,500 civil servants from across Whitehall and beyond. Increasing numbers of civil servants have told us that digital is having an impact on their work.

So by 2017, 88% of civil servants were directly experiencing the changes produced by technology and new ways of working (an increase of nearly 20 percentage points since 2015).

How do civil servants understand and experience digital transformation?

Transformation is needed to keep up with changing user demands. And technology is delivering more efficient and effective operating models. These changes are well understood by civil servants, who told us that digital meant, beyond anything else, the restructuring of the way that public services are delivered. In previous years channel shift and improving online services were the most prominent descriptions (reflecting the emphasis then placed on digital by default).

This pace of change can be threatening, especially when the civil service is far smaller than in 2010 (there has been a reduction of around 19% in just seven years). However. three quarters of the civil servants we surveyed said digital ways of working were having a positive impact on them and an even more positive impact on the citizens they serve (a response that has remained relatively stable over the last three years).

What conditions must exist to achieve digital transformation?

Technology is an enabler of transformation. Technology is not the outcome. It is a component of change that must be exploited. Transformation of government requires senior civil service buy in. But you also need adequate resourcing and teams with the skills to set and keep the pace.

Lack of resources and skills have consistently been identified by civil servants over the last three years as the most significant barriers to transformation.

The government has plans to attract, recruit and retain specialists in an increasingly competitive marketplace, through improvements to career paths and reward structures, new learning and development programmes and a data science campus and accelerator programme. But there is significant room for improvement.

In 2017, 62% of civil servants placed lack of training for staff among the top three barriers to change.

Civil servants called out acute needs for service design, agile delivery and user research skills. And nearly half – 43% of respondents – told us that they personally had not received enough digital training to do their job well (an increase of 6 percentage points since 2015).

What will digital transformation look like over the next three years?

The last twelve months have seen a significant drop in the number of civil servants saying that new restructured services and online channels were live or about to go live (down 16 and 19 percentage points respectively). We do not see this as a negative finding. Rather there has been a recalibration in the way that civil servants think about digital transformation.

The ultimate objective of government is a more secure, coherent and agile government, able to reduce the costs of building, changing and running services.

Civil servants recognise that this requires deeper and far reaching organisational change and new operating models, budget structures and the end of siloed decision-making hierarchies. And this takes time.

In the coming weeks we will be going into more detail about the survey findings and giving our views on ways of addressing barriers to change. In the meantime, you can read more about the survey on our website. We also want to encourage a debate with civil servants and others with an interest in government, so please leave your comment below.