COVID-19: A catalyst for the UK’s digital transformation

The push to modernise the UK’s public sector has been a hot topic for years. Citizens have long called for better digital services, state schools have been navigating the shift to online learning, and government bodies have sought to digitise their own processes as well as the citizen experience.  

There has been pressure to evolve, but with so many legacy processes and systems to untangle many bodies have continued to transform at their own pace. Then COVID-19 hit, and virtually every public sector organisation in the country had to adapt its way of working overnight.  Transformation went from a luxury to an absolute necessity.  

The coronavirus pandemic has brought us back in time in many ways, but it has also been a catalyst for the digital transformation of the public sector.  From citizen-facing contact tracing apps or chatbots providing the latest COVID-19 guidance, to e-signature technologies that allow essential services, such as the police, to continue protecting citizens while reducing in-person contact, the UK has unveiled a host of new digital services.  

The Police ICT Company works with technology companies and law enforcement agencies to help UK police work more efficiently and make the most of innovative new technologies. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing measures have led to a rise in police demand for digital technologies to support hands-off law enforcement, and Police ICT has answered the call.  

In the words of Simon Clifford, Director of Data and Digital at The Police ICT Company, “Members of the public want to engage with law enforcement in new ways, working remotely when possible to protect the safety of officers and citizens alike, so we’re considering how technology can help policing meet their needs while also helping to tackle crime”. Using Adobe Sign, police forces can now digitally verify as many as 700 witness statements taken over the phone for so-called “volume crimes” per month, not only reducing the need for in-person visits, but also streamlining administrative tasks, allowing officers to spend more time on operational policing matters.  

Another government body, HM Land Registry, also announced that it will accept electronic signatures for certain types of deeds, in a move that will benefit the country’s property sector by digitising and streamlining a previously manual, paper-based process. With this shift in approach, HM Land Registry has shown that even longstanding guidelines can be done away with when they stand in the way of digital progress.  

Schools have also been forced to change the way they operate in response to the pandemic, as well as what they teach. Digital Learning for Wales (HwB) has made Adobe Spark available to more than 500,000 students in 1500 state schools for free, ensuring that young people across Wales can nurture their creativity while learning remotely. By focusing on access and creativity for all, HwB is emphasising digital skills alongside literacy and numeracy, helping to prepare students for the world of work, where creative skills are highly prized. 

The COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting impression on the way all of us live and work, and while we eagerly await the day this virus is behind us, there has been at least one positive outcome from these past few months: seeing just how resilient public sector organisations have been and how quickly they have been able to implement new technologies to keep services running at a time when citizens needed them most.   

By adapting fast rather than designing from the ground up organisations have been able to achieve a huge amount in a short space of time under highly pressurised conditions. Hopefully the experiences of digitisation gained during this period will carry forward into the future. 

Guest blog by Mark Greenaway, Director Digital Media, Northern Europe at Adobe  

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