Reflecting on government’s digital strategy - What have we learnt?

Overview

Alison King gives you the key takeaways extracted from Beyond 2020: Where next for the government’s digital transformation?’  Reflecting on how the pandemic has placed data-driven decision making at the forefront of everyone's minds and what that means for government's digital strategy.  

Last month we launched our latest report Beyond 2020: Where next for the government’s digital transformation?’

We caught up with Alison King, Account Manager for Government and NHS at CTS and the report’s author, to discuss its contents.

Can you briefly tell us what the report covers and what readers can expect to learn? 

When writing the report, we wanted to cover four of the main factors affecting digital adoption across the public sector. 

The first area it covers is the government’s digital strategy to date, including achievements and any learnings, as well as a review of the Government Transformation Strategy which came to an end in 2020. 

We also look at where the biggest opportunities for digital transformation across the public sector lie. There are some excellent examples of how cloud technology has made a real difference to efficiencies in departments, but the adoption of cloud isn’t consistent across government. Some departments are yet to harness the full potential of the technology.

Thirdly, we look at how the upcoming National Data Strategy – a replacement for the Government Transformation Strategy – could improve how tech is used across the sector and the opportunities it can bring.  

And finally, we analyse the impacts of COVID on the government’s digital strategy.

How effective has the government’s digital strategy been to date? 

In some ways, the government has been at the forefront of digital transformation. It launched GOV.UK in 2012 which replaced 2,000 government websites with just one, it committed to a cloud-first policy in 2013, and by 2015 it was saving £1.7bn a year because of digital and technology transformation. 

Where more work is needed, however, is in the consistency of tech adoption between departments. Some departments have been quicker to embrace cloud technology as a means of improving efficiencies than others and, as a result, processes and ways of working differ across government. 

There’s also the problem of legacy IT issues. Many government departments still rely on older IT systems and ways of working, so a move to the cloud can seem like a real logistical challenge, and many departments and staff members are reluctant to change. In these instances, an effective change management plan is essential to guarantee a smooth transition to more modern IT infrastructure. 

The government is incredibly complex and made up of multiple organisations with multiple departments all operating differently. How difficult is it to have a consistent cloud strategy? 

It’s not an easy challenge, that’s true. But often the more complex the organisation, the more it has to benefit from cloud technology. 

In many cases, centrally stored data allows organisations to better understand peaks and troughs in demand. For government, this would mean the delivery of public service is optimised and public finances are used effectively. 

The cloud isn’t just a place to store files either. For government departments, it can improve efficiencies, aid better collaboration between staff, break down siloes within departments while speeding up decision-making processes. It can also unlock the use and benefits of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) – both of which have a host of applications across the public sector.

The National Data Strategy, which came out towards the end of 2020, promises to completely overhaul how data is used, shared and analysed across government. Do you think the strategy is the right step forward for government? 

Most definitely. The pandemic has taught us just how important data is in government, so any strategy that promises to improve how that information is used, is a positive move. Placing data at the centre of its operations is one of the most effective things government can do to fully realise the benefits of digital transformation. 

But if the strategy is to be a success, it’s vital that a standardised approach to data collection across departments is adopted. Improved data collection processes will remove any poor-quality data held by government, and play a key role in boosting productivity amongst teams and influencing better decision making.

We can’t ignore the impacts of the pandemic on government decision making. How will coronavirus’ legacy influence tech adoption in government moving forward?

Coronavirus has completely altered how we all view data in government. Never in my lifetime has a UK government and its data been under such heavy scrutiny from the media and the public for every decision it makes. To add to that, the data on which those decisions are being made are being presented to the public daily, putting added pressure on the government to ensure it is capturing good quality, accurate and – most importantly – timely information. 

The result of this is that we’ve become a nation obsessed with data, with daily updates on new cases, geographic clusters, the tragic deaths, and now the vaccine rollout. 

The level of transparency the public has become accustomed to over the last 12 months will likely be expected to continue well into the future. The government must be prepared to adapt to this. 

Thanks, Alison. And finally, where can people read the report?

You can download the report here.

Alternatively, if anyone would like to know more about the report’s findings, contact me on alison.king@cts.co

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