Where next for the government’s digital strategy?

Overview

The UK’s response to the pandemic has placed data-driven decision making firmly in the public eye. Alison King considers 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.  

The UK’s response to the pandemic has placed data-driven decision making firmly in the public eye, with updates on cases, geographic clusters, new variants, and the vaccine rollout presented daily to the population – providing a behind-the-scenes view of the data that is driving policy decisions. 

This has sparked increased interest in the Government’s use of data, and how it drives smart decision making. Our new report, Beyond 2020: Where Next for the Government’s Digital Strategy investigates this topic, using our unique expertise to understand the UK’s digital trajectory and assess what must be done to make the UK government a world leader in digital transformation. 

The report explores the benefits of cloud technology, data capturing and analysis, and machine learning (ML) in government to improve the delivery of public services – and how their uses will play an even more important role in our COVID recovery. 

The view that data and technology should shape public service delivery was reflected by public opinion even before the pandemic. Research into public attitudes from The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’s (CDEI), for example, found there is an expectation the public sector should use online targeting to ensure that services are delivered as effectively as possible [1].

When considering the benefits of a cloud-based data-driven approach, however, the numbers speak for themselves. Government saves around £1.7 billion through the efficiency benefits provided by its existing digital services alone [2]– and from a worker’s perspective this technology improves working practices by enhancing collaboration, boosting productivity, and improving overall efficiency.

Indeed, many government departments have already reaped the rewards of digital transformation. The Department for Transport’s LENNON system, for instance, is a useful demonstration of this, a new data-rich system that has reduced from several hours to 20 seconds the time it takes for staff to execute a query [3]. Emulating successes such as these across all government departments should be a priority for government.

Throughout our research we found that government can not only make major efficiency gains on a macro level by updating its digital strategy, but also enhance communication and collaboration between different public sector agencies and government departments. 

The new National Data Strategy could play a key role in how government collaborates between departments moving forward, making the most of its combined data to inform decision and policy making. 

Despite the benefits of greater collaboration and digital transformation more widely, we also recognise that implementing these technologies and solutions can come with their challenges. Amid a global pandemic, it’s understandable that any headway towards full cloud adoption could inevitably slow down. But we also know that failure to adopt modern IT infrastructure across government’s digital estates could see the UK lag other countries. 

This is a particularly pertinent point given the older systems some departments rely on. The NHS, for example, reports that only 54 per cent of staff can rely on digital records for information when they need it despite efforts to change this by the NHSX [4].

Overcoming this obstacle, as well as cultural pressure from employees used to existing systems will be vital to the success of the new National Digital Strategy. A proper change management strategy is critical to managing this process of change. When all users understand the importance of the changes, not just to their own daily work but to the bigger picture, it is much easier to initiate buy-in and a positive attitude towards transformation. 

The same applies to security. An effective internal communications campaign can dispel the misconceptions about the security of the cloud, clearly informing users that many organisations now opt for cloud storage over traditional methods due to its additional security benefits. This is supported by research from Salesforce, which found that 94 per cent of private sector businesses that switched to the cloud saw security improvements [5].

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There’s no doubt that the pandemic has illuminated the importance of data in government decision making while also demonstrating that progress still has to be made. The government must update its approach to reflect this, and further reemphasise the importance of data, AI and ML across departmental estates while also setting out a roadmap to implement new technology and overcome the challenges that accompany its introduction. 

For more information about how Government and public sector organisations can harness the benefits of cloud technology, download our report.

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