When the UK government launched its first Government Digital Strategy in 2012, the purpose was clear: to use technology to transform and simplify the way citizens interact with the state. With rapidly changing digital behaviours, making public services ‘digital by default’ – whether it’s paying council tax, booking a doctor’s appointment, or registering a business – was seen as the key to fully meeting the needs of the people.
In our recent post, we outlined the challenges and opportunities of this mission. In this, the second part of our blog series on digital transformation in the public sector, we will look at the effect the government’s digital strategy has had to date.
Putting ‘Cloud First’
One of the crucial benefits of the government’s digital strategy is that it has allowed government bodies more flexibility when sourcing digital solutions. The only stipulations are that solutions must be modular, interoperable, and allow for no vendor lock-in. Furthermore, under the 2013 ‘Cloud First’ policy, cloud-based solutions must be considered ahead of other alternatives.
These guidelines ensure that public sector technology buyers prioritise the cloud, arguably the cornerstone of any digital transformation process. And all but guarantee that government agencies maximise the value of technology spend while providing a platform that can deliver effective, streamlined digital services.
What’s more, it appears to be having the desired effect. When we spoke to government IT decision makers, our research found that 41% of public sector organisations already have high levels of digital transformation projects underway, and 58% are employing cloud infrastructure. Furthermore, UK public sector organisations display a degree of maturity – 48% have a balance of cloud-based and on-premise solutions, and 28% have most of their applications in the cloud.
In fact, the focus on cloud solutions has been so successful that the push is now for government organisations to become ‘Cloud Native’ – rethinking workflows from the ground up to truly exploit the benefits of cloud platforms.Transforming government inside and out
The effect of the government’s digital strategy has been to make public services more streamlined and easy to access for citizens. That’s why, in the UN e-Government Survey, the UK ranked number one in both the e-Government Development Index and the e-Participation Index.
But what is also changing is the way that government bodies operate internally and cross-departmentally. Take the GOV.UK website, the cornerstone of how the government provides digital services to citizens. The website’s code has been made open, increasing transparency across agencies within the UK government, and allowing it to be reused and iterated upon by governments worldwide.
It’s also worth mentioning that the government’s strategy is not just to deliver streamlined digital services to citizens, but to deliver a similar experience to public sector employees. This is where the digital transformation of government agencies can be most powerful.
For example, the Cabinet Office and Environmental Agency have been testing off-the-shelf employee-facing mobile working solutions, with the aim of allowing civil servants to eventually manage expenses, book annual leave, and work remotely with greater ease in the future. As with any organisation, the government’s digital strategy is about facilitating more flexible ways of working to make employees more effective, and to give themselves access to the largest pool of talent.
Plugging the digital skills gap in the future
The government’s digital strategy is pushing the public sector towards a more digital future. However, the strategy must constantly evolve to overcome future hurdles in the future.
According to research by the Cloud Industry Forum, 40% of public sector organisations lack the skills to adapt to digital transformation, and 41% have encountered a lack of internal skills when trying to implement cloud solutions.
It means that the government’s digital strategy must ensure the public sector has the right knowledge to effectively deliver results. Some local organisations are experimenting with possible solutions – Nottinghamshire County Council, for example, has created a Digital Enhancement Programme (DEP) to provide digital skills training to young people in a hope to address the gap. Others must now follow suit.
Hopefully, future digital initiatives by the government will iterate upon and expand programmes like the DEP to further propel the UK public sector to the forefront of technological innovation. We’ll watch on with interest.