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.

Improving digital services in health care

As I awaited with eager anticipation for the second day of the Digital Health and Care Conference in Edinburgh to see digital innovation and progression in the Scottish Health Sector, a sobering thought from one of the speakers on the first day came to mind.

Whilst many retail and banking sectors have embraced complete digital transformation in their operating models, I’m sure you’ll agree that many areas of the health sector lag behind. Indeed, according to the Department of Health only 2% of current interactions are digital.

Person-centred interaction will always be at the heart of health and care, but that interaction can be better informed, more efficient and better organised , if supported by data and technology? To clarify my point I wanted to provide some examples:

  • GP Referral to Treatment (RTT) – whilst we are progressing in providing information available to the patient, why is it still difficult to provide information to the citizen regarding all the critical points in their pathway? As a patient, the only information one currently obtains is by telephoning the appropriate Health Board, contacting your GP to get them to do it, or receiving one of the paper-based letters to tell you that you’re ready to be seen by the Consultant in XX weeks time.
  • Booking an appointment – online access to GP appointments is available, but if you’ve ever gone through the process with your GP practice (at least in Scotland) it is overly complex and convoluted. I consider myself to be IT literate, but this process doesn’t seem to have the most important person in mind – the citizen. In effect, this has made little impact on a citizen’s day-to-day experience with their practice and the business model within it.

At the risk of sounding obvious, these two examples – of which there are many more – cry out for a rethink of the way the citizen interacts with services. Do we ask how a user wants to interact with the RTT process? Well, here’s an example in point. One of my family members is going for a hip replacement sometime soon. I want to emphasise ‘soon’, as they don’t actually know when. I’m sure the medical speciality know, so why can’t we provide this information to the user who wants to know to be able to plan their life effectively? Indeed, can we take learning from other sectors e.g. retail where the user is able to track the progress of their product from purchase to receipt. Why can’t we make this possible for the above example…? And I’ve not even considered the potential financial savings.

How do you get into the hearts and minds of the citizen?

The challenge that most commercial organisations had when the digital revolution started was that they created brilliant online presences which nobody used. Picture technological tumbleweed… So, commercial organisations incentivised customers to use the online functionality by offering discounts, online-only tariffs, faster fulfilment, flexibility etc. But how does this transpose itself to health care?

Looking to our Nordic neighbours, Daniel Forslund, Commissioner for Innovation and eHealth, Stockholm County Council conveyed it so well during the conference. Digital has to become the new norm. However, in order to do so, we need to incentivise citizens to use these services. This means providing digital services that the public want to use, as  and when it becomes beneficial.

Using the GP appointments example above, citizens choosing to use digital services could be given preferential appointment times – i.e., most early session appointments could be reserved for online bookings, whilst still maintaining slots for other methods of booking later in the day. These early morning sessions could also be available to book using SMS facilities from the citizen’s mobile phone.

As many of the key speakers at the Conference mentioned, digital transformation doesn’t have to be difficult, but we have to focus on the value it brings to the citizen – what information do we expect, how do we want to interact, etc?

Using service redesign techniques with the focus on putting the citizen first will enable us to deliver transformational services. It’s been done in so many areas already, so why don’t we do more for our ‘Health Consumers’? Indeed, one of the delegates argued that it’s about applying good practice that already exists in other sectors and transforming its use to new areas. Whilst I agree partly with this, I don’t think a ‘one size fits all approach’ can be taken – what happens when good practice doesn’t exist for a similar service? For me, and it sounds obvious, driving the input from service users is the key to transformational change in the way citizens interact with Health, designed by the user for the user.

Interested in hearing more about our approach to transforming customer journeys through service redesign? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Platforms on Platforms: Innovation by subtraction

One of the competitive advantages of Digital Transformation is that it empowers an organisation to rationalise (or subtract) processes to innovate the customer and employee experience. So as organisations face new economic and competitive challenges how can adopting such capabilities benefit them?

Disruptors like Amazon and Uber have transformed markets using a global approach that removes the need for customers to use locally based, often more expensive incumbent competitors. This advantage is generated by their high volume, fast turnaround digital platform services that enable them to achieve economies of scale that drive greater choice and better prices for customers.

One wonders what further opportunities could emerge for “innovation by subtraction” delivered using Digital Transformation

In response, we have seen incumbents imitate this platform model such as Sainsbury’s intended integration of Grocer and Retail Catalogue propositions through its acquisition of Home Retail Group (that owns Argos). Such a move not only increases the level of choice Sainsbury’s can offer to match Amazon but also offers it other advantages in terms of more efficient logistics and faster deliveries (Argos, like Amazon, offers same day fulfilment).

Yet one wonders what further opportunities could emerge for “innovation by subtraction” delivered using Digital Transformation to disrupt sectors further – not just for engaging more demanding customers, but also to capitalise on increasingly fluid labour market dynamics like the Gig Economy.

Such a model potentially confers a range of co-opetitive benefits including deeper engagement in the Sharing Economy

Could the next disruption be “Platforms on Platforms”? This is where a disruptor creates a digital platform that enables a customer to consume personalised services from any competitor through one channel, effectively removing or subtracting the inconvenience or restrictions of engaging only a single retailer? Price comparison websites, for example, are an established form of the “Platform on Platform” concept, yet they arguably lack the ability for a customer to pick and mix offerings from different retailers into one truly personalised shopping basket.

Such a model potentially confers a range of co-opetitive benefits for contributing retailers – including opportunities to sell to previously unreachable customers, logistics efficiencies and deeper engagement in the Sharing Economy popular with millennials.

Organisations creating “Platforms on Platforms” to further disrupt their sectors or markets could become a key strategic trend over the coming years

Low skilled and temporary workers could also benefit from using a “Platform on Platform” service that pulls together in one place shift opportunities or short term assignments available during the same week (or even day) from different – potentially competing – organisations. Given the anticipated impact of automation, high wage costs (like the National Living Wage in the UK) and greater demands for labour flexibility, such a service could materially benefit these workers in the emerging Digital Economy (while also removing the need for employers to search and procure such flexible people resources independently).

Organisations creating “Platforms on Platforms” to further disrupt their sectors or markets could become a key strategic trend over the coming years. But to master this new form of competitive advantage will require innovation by subtraction using Digital Transformation.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

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.

Building an Agile Organisation: lessons learned from Lean Agile Scotland 2016

I was lucky enough to attend Lean Agile Scotland last month, a 3-day conference in Edinburgh crammed full of fantastic key notes, talks and workshops covering all things Agile: from Value Streams to Cynefin, from TDD and BDD to Neuro-diversity, and from meeting culture to dark collaboration – #LAScot16 had it all.

Trying to summarise in one blog post all the lessons and thinking I took away has been tough, so I’ve focused on some interesting ideas from the conference which can help organisations build/maintain their Agile culture:

The role of management in an Agile organisation

The subject of management was touched upon by several speakers during the 3 days, including Marc Burgauer’s Eupsychian  Manager talk and Julia Wester’s Let’s (Not) Get Rid of Managers talk.

Marc Burgauer introduced many of the conference attendees to the idea of Maslow’s Eupsycian Manager (pronounced “you-sigh-key-un”), human-oriented management generated by self-actualised people (Eupsychian is defined as having or moving towards a good mind/soul). Marc highlighted that in age where most organisations strive for conformity and “same-ness”, there is not one right way to manage everyone. Each employee needs to be managed specifically to their needs in the moment and in a way fitting of their current context – in Eupsychian Management, one size definitely does not fit all.

Eupsychian managers make it easy for their employees to say No to them – this allows your employees to make you aware of anything you may currently be blind to in your organisation and so learn valuable information.

Euphysian managers also ask their employees, “What can I do to help you do your job better?”. This question clearly sets out from the beginning how the relationship between manager and employee will function.

Mirroring many of the sentiments of Marc’s talk, Julia Wester thoughtfully discussed how as more teams move to an Agile way of working (self-organising, no hierarchy), the traditional role of managers must move too. We still need managers in Agile environments but Agile management should focus on ignoring hierarchy and having managers just be part of the team – being seen as “one of the team” encourages feedback from your team members.

In an Agile environment, we should value individuals and interactions over processes and tools, therefore managers should treat their team as people, not just resources. One example of an organisation moving away from seeing their people as just resources is Google – they have renamed their Human Resources department to People Ops. When you value your people, you foster cognitive safety and create relationships based on trust which allows you not to micromanage.

Julia finished her talk with this important quote from Peter F. Drucker:

“Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”

The importance of Communities of Practice in an Agile (any!) Organisation

At Emily Webber’s Communities of Practice, The Missing Piece of Your Agile Organisation talk, highlighting the importance & value of having communities of practice in your organisation, I found myself nodding along in agreement at everything she said. Fortunately, Sopra Steria already recognises the importance of Communities of Practice, demonstrated by our adoption of a Community model earlier this year with communities ranging from Agile to Architecture.

So what makes a good community? Having Membership and Influence, while providing a Fulfilment of Needs and Emotional Connection. And why are they essential? People need to feel supported in their roles. We learn better when we learn together. Collaboration creates collective intelligence which is greater than individual intelligence.

When thinking about how you can get the most from your Community of Practice, use it as an opportunity to get together and:

  • Give presentations to one another and/or invite external speakers in to present on new thinking/innovation in your area
  • Practice new skills in a safe environment
  • Visit other organisations, if possible, with similar challenges and share learning

Many more lessons can be learned from Lean Agile Scotland 2016 and if you would like to learn more then all talks from the 3 days will be made available online – follow @LeanAgileScotland on Twitter or check www.leanagile.scot for updates.

If you have any thoughts on these topics, please leave a reply blow or contact me by email.

Bob Dylan was right about Digital Transformation

Bob Dylan is recognised as one of most influential writers of the 20th century.  He is not though, seen as an inspiration for the digital age. Perhaps he should be? With his 1964 song, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, he states that “He not busy being born is busy dying”. With this line he couldn’t have been more prescient.

Organisations need to continually “be busy being born” and innovate or face the alternative.

Think about it: what differentiates companies hobbling along the digital highway from the ones paving the way? The ability to embrace change, refuse status quo and turn the business into an ever evolving entity. 

Put another way, being digital is about reconciling the pace of adoption of new technologies with the pace of their commoditisation. The latter recently experienced a dramatic acceleration, while the former is often stuck in old-world mode.

 

Old world versus Digital world

Twenty years ago, adopting new software was a big deal. There were limited numbers of vendors in each market segment. Software customisation or process transformation was necessary to take advantage of technology. Integration was complex, ongoing maintenance and support often presented challenges. All of this resulted in expensive acquisition costs, from both a financial and an effort perspective. Long-term supplier contracts were the norm.

Once software was installed, and the vendor proven, it was a lot easier for an organisation to allow the vendor to expand its footprint through additional modules and products rather than go back to the market to look for alternative solutions.

From a vendor perspective, selling and delivering software was costly requiring a large sales team to reach customers and negotiate complex contracts. Vendor delivery teams would need to be highly skilled building bespoke integrations to satisfy the specific needs of customers.

New software integration was expensive, risky and therefore needed careful consideration. Adoption pace was slow as software was seen as complex far from being a commodity.

Today, the pace of commodization has increased by an order of magnitude, mainly due to Cloud technologies. Let’s have a look: what does innovation mean today in the enterprise world? Big data maybe, machine learning and AI, blockchain or IoT?. All these have already been turned into commodities. Fancy running some machine learning algorithms on your customers database? AWS has an API for that. Conducting a first run shouldn’t take more than a few hours of work. Same goes for most of big data technologies, IoT, blockchain and even virtual reality.

as-a-Service paradigm

The as-a-Service paradigm has drastically reduced costs, complexity and risks of adopting new software and technologies. The SaaS model for instance through turning CAPEX into OPEX, has abolished any notion of commitment.

Should your company use this marketing software over this one? Who cares? Use both, allow yourself to pay a bit more for one month or two, then keep the one that perfectly meets your needs. Going further, why even consider it at company level? One department may prefer one software because it measures what they want in the exact way they want, while another department may prefer another one. With almost no acquisition and no integration costs, why try to over rationalise at the expense of business value and user experience?
Standardisation is still to be considered on non-differentiating applications, but at a much less prominent position.

The Digital highway

All this said, most of old world companies are still considering innovation with the same eyes as before, missing business opportunities and losing ground to new entrants.

If conducting an IoT experiment means running an RFP, conduct a 6-month PoC and sign a multi-year contract, then you may be doing IoT, but you’re still hobbling on the digital highway.

Velocity is key to transforming your company into an ever evolving, fast learning, business.

“He not busy being born is busy dying

Thanks to Clara, Gavin, Jian and Robin for their kind guidance.

More on the subject:

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

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