Public services in the UK are shielded to a certain extent from the disruption of digital age startups – environmental health is unlikely to be Uber-ised any time soon, after all. However, the twin challenges of severe budget reductions and increased demand from service users means that change is necessary, and digital transformation is a way of seeing how the sector can, in effect, disrupt itself.
At a very high level, the digital transformation of a public service has three main elements:
• The operating model – deciding how services should be delivered
• The service design – deciding how the needs of the user are best met in a specific process
• The technology – using online tech to make the service accessible anytime, anywhere, backed up with assistance for those that lack access or skills
SMEs play a vital role in all three of these areas – by providing skills and capabilities that the public sector currently lacks in-house, and by delivering the kind of modern, flexible technology needed to deliver digital-age solutions.
The latter is a particularly important point, and is one that requires a step change in culture in IT departments. The digital requirement to focus on meeting user need rather than organisational convenience means that the best approaches seek to knit together flexible, best of breed capabilities rather than investing in large, monolithic systems.
After all, many of the line of business systems in use in the public sector do rather similar things – they are made up of case management, bookings, reporting, assessment, payments, notifications and so on. Rather than buying these capabilities over and over again, embedded into large, siloed systems, increasingly organisations seek to purchase these capabilities separately, stitching them together using APIs and web services to deliver a solution that meets the needs of the user, rather than bending processes to fit how the system works.
This has a number of advantages:
• Cost savings, in not duplicating the purchase of capabilities
• Easier to support, as the core set of capabilities are the same no matter what the service is
• Greater flexibility, as capabilities can be swapped in and out as the market matures and new innovations come into play
What the public sector needs for this approach to flourish is a rich market of possibilities – different vendors focusing on developing brilliant specific capabilities rather than trying to develop vast platforms that do everything. Tech SMEs should be perfectly placed to provide the kind of innovation needed to grow this kind of ecosystem, whilst operating at the right scale to never lose touch with what the user outcome needs to be.
Working with SMEs is easier now that it ever has been before, with procurement frameworks like the Digital Marketplace creating simple routes to market without the need to go through laborious tender processes. Advice Cloud works with many organisations on both the supply and the buy side to help make connections between the two and smooth the process of purchasing, minimising to hold ups to getting the real work done.
Technology is not the be-all and end-all of digital transformation. However, any organisation looking to disrupt itself in this way must have a sufficiently flexible technology stack to support the radical change that is needed – and tech SMEs are in the perfect place to deliver what digital transformation demands.
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