Guest blog: Bringing citizens on the journey

TechMarketView’s latest research into the UK software and IT services (SITS) market revealed strong growth for the IT consulting market – beating all other areas of UK SITS. The trend is replicated across the public and private sectors. The reason is clear. Organisations face the most difficult phase in their digital transformation journeys. And they need help tackling the challenge.

In the UK public sector, organisations have been committed to the ‘digital by default’ agenda for over a decade. But, in attempting to ‘look and feel’ digital to the man on the street, organisations across Whitehall and the wider public sector have tackled the most common transactions first – the renewal of a passport or driving license, the payment of council tax, or the reporting of a missed bin collection. And in attempting to accelerate their digital transformation, they often concentrated on the ‘low hanging fruit’ – the greenfield front-end developments… the digital sticking plaster over back-end legacy systems... the digital veneer often hiding manual back end processing.

These early digital developments have been beneficial. They’ve streamlined and simplified Government interaction with citizens linked to an array of public services. They’ve reduced costly face-to-face appointments and call centre contacts. They’ve allowed government efficiencies to be realised.

But, on the whole, the digital development has fallen into the category we refer to as ‘simple digital’. Therefore, we have only just touched the surface of what could be achieved by tackling more ‘complex digital’ initiatives. ‘Complex digital’ would put greater emphasis on deep organisational and process transformation, on breaking down government silos, on cross-boundary data sharing and on multi-agency citizen interactions. Importantly, this more difficult phase has the potential to tackle some of the most pressing public sector challenges – those which affect a smaller, yet more vulnerable group in society, but which can be the biggest drain on public sector finances.

There are many reasons why the public sector is finding it difficult to move onto this next digital transformation phase – leadership instability and fragmented responsibilities, budgetary pressures, political short-termism, a shortage of digital skills, fragmented responsibility cultural barriers. The list goes on. But one of the biggest barriers is a lack of understanding of how best to leverage government and citizen data. This is a whole topic in its own right. But one thing is clear: the citizen will need to be brought along on the journey. They will need to understand how their data is being used, be clear where data ownership lies, and be cognisant of the benefits of data sharing between public sector organisations.

There have been numerous occasions where public feeling has served to hinder or derail Government IT projects; the two most high-profile were the NHS National Programme for IT and the Home Office’s Identity Cards programme. The UK is not the only country to face the issue; in the U.S. a Bill & Melinda Gates-funded, data-driven education project – called inBloom - fell foul of parental protests over student privacy. In this, TechMarketView’s ‘Year of the Relationship’, building trust between Government and the citizen will be an essential ingredient in moving forward the transformation agenda.

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