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Pegasystems: Yes (but maybe not like that) Minister
A little bit of (unsolicited) advice for the new Digital Minister. Warning: this may be a little different to what your official new departmental briefings are telling you to do.
Cloud, AI, IA, RPA, API, DPA, CRM, BPM, RDA, digital twins, predictive analytics, agile, discovery, waterfall; there’s no end of digital-related terms and impenetrable acronyms that our new Digital Minister, Brendan Clarke-Smith MP, will feel the need to get his head around as he takes on his new responsibilities, including oversight of the Government Digital Service and the Central Digital and Data Office (…there’s two more acronyms: GDS and CDDO!). And having previously been a teacher with no obvious background in IT or digital delivery this may be no easy task. So, at the risk of being rather presumptuous, I thought I would help him out with some free advice as he starts to get to grips with his new brief.
Forget all the acronyms, buzz words, cutting-edge technologies and complicated-sounding management theories that will be thrown at you, and focus on just two things: 1) What do citizens of the UK need the digital government to do for them, and 2) How can that best be delivered? Everything else is just noise.
Clearly, citizens need a multitude of digital services from the government; everything from passport and driving licence applications, through registering births, deaths, and property transactions, to online court case management and digital health records. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
But one common thread through all of these is that the service needs to be built around the needs of the citizen rather than the needs of the provider. That means it must be focused on the life or business event that the citizen is going through (whether that be starting a new business, having a child or applying for an environmental grant) rather than on the process the government organisation needs to undertake, that it must be accessible and easy to use, and that it must be built around the outcome the citizen is trying to achieve rather than the inputs the machine thinks it needs.
This may all sound simple and obvious but a quick glance at almost any government service suggests it is really not. So as the minister responsible for all this, if you do nothing but continuously ask what the citizen need from us and how are we designing our services to deliver that, you will have done more than many of your predecessors.
But that is just the first step of course. It is all very well, although very difficult, to design truly citizen-centric services, but then they must be delivered. And this is where things get really gnarly.
You will be bombarded with potential delivery challenges, some real, some imagined: unsupportable legacy systems that need to be dealt with first; the lack of digital delivery skills in government; demands for huge up-front investment or massive change fees; implementation timescales receding off into the distance; conflicts between business and IT teams over what is really needed and difficulties identifying and quantifying the value that will ultimately be achieved.
Again, I would urge you to cut through all this and simply instruct GDS to encourage departments across the government to start small (pick one or two key user journeys in any given area, to begin with), and adopt an approach such as low-code development that reduces reliance on scarce and expensive technical skills while compelling business and IT teams to work together in an integrated way, use the best of what the market has to offer in partnership with internal development where needed, avoid expensive, wholesale legacy system replacement or costly ‘big bang’ implementations, and, finally, demonstrate value as they go, both in terms of outcomes delivered and savings achieved, before moving onto the next step.
It may not sound particularly smart, but if you can do this, you will have done more to deliver a truly smart state than any number of new technologies ever could.
This article was written by Alex Case, Senior Director, Public Sector Industry Principal at Pegasystems. He was previously a Senior Civil Servant at 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, was a Programme Director at the Ministry of Justice and a policy advisor at HM Treasury. He has also held senior consultancy roles at Deloitte and PA Consulting.
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