“We are in a transformation journey across government,” said Civil Service Chief Executive John Manzoni earlier this week. “We have done a lot, but there is lots more to do.” Today techUK’s Public Services Board (PSB) releases research that shows the scale of both the progress that has been made, and the challenges that lie ahead. Drawing upon the opinions of nearly 1,000 Civil Servants of all levels, our report Smarter Services: Delivering the Next Wave of Digital Transformation in the Public Sector provides material recommendations to help Government ensure that it meets its ambitious vision for tech-enabled public services.
To launch it at techUK’s Public Services 2030 conference – which looks at how technology will transform public services over the next decade or more – seems apt. The wave of digital transformation that the Government is now embarking upon will have profound implications for the services used by citizens in 2030. As the number one-ranked digital Government in the World, the UK starts from a strong foundation, but as our research shows, there remain significant challenges that must be overcome if the public sector is to deliver the joined-up, tech-enabled services citizens increasingly expect.
The good news for Government is that Civil Servants clearly understand the importance of digital transformation in the public sector. 97 per cent told us that technology is either necessary for or an enabler of the work that they do. Nearly four out of five thought that it was crucial to improving the services they deliver.
But end-to-end transformation is complicated and nowhere more so than in the public sector, where a diffuse network of organisations and agencies deliver a variety of services to many different users. If Government is to deliver on its ambitions, it will need not only to embrace new technology, but the ways of working that it makes possible.
While the past decade has delivered vast improvements in the ways that public sector organisations conceive of and deliver public services, our research shows that there is still much work to be done on this front. Nearly half of Civil Servants thought that the internal culture of their organisation was a barrier to taking advantage of digital technology, while significant gaps in skills were felt to hold back the Civil Service in key areas such as digital service design, data management and procurement. The Government’s Transformation Strategy makes a welcome commitment to common standards, architecture and processes, and it will have to work hard to ensure that this is backed up by clear guidance on the implications for public servants.
The work that the PSB has done this year has consistently highlighted three key areas which merit particular attention from Government: removing barriers to sharing in the public sector; improving the digital skills and capabilities of civil servants; and delivering World-class citizen transactions online. All three were ranked as being either a 9 or 10 on a scale of 0-10 for their importance to delivering better public services by between a third and a half of all the civil servants we spoke to. My colleagues on the PSB have produced Insights looking at what we can do in these areas in more depth.
But Government shouldn’t be daunted by these challenges, and it is right to pursue the ambitious path that it has chosen. Britain benefits from a thriving tech sector, and Industry has accrued a great deal of knowledge of managing transformation programmes that it is keen to share with the public sector. Public servants, industry and citizens all have a stake in making a success of the Government’s plans for smarter services, and all will need to be fellow travellers on John Manzoni’s journey if we are to reach the destination we hope for.
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