Global ascent of digital

The public sector is going through a period of digital awakening – underpinned by a fundamental shift in the way services are delivered to citizens in Scotland and across the UK.

At the turn of the century, there was a focus on e-government providing online services that were merely an electronic façade replicating analogue processes. Since then, many have come to the realisation that merely applying an electronic skin to existing processes isn't enough.

As a result, more public sector organisations are starting to go further, thinking about how digital will transform their operating models. This ‘whole system digitisation’ goes beyond an electronic veneer by thinking about how digital changes the relationship with citizens, the services they consume and how these services are delivered.

However, such root and branch reviews can be a challenge in times of scarcity; particularly with more cuts to budgets on the way. It’s difficult for organisations to implement wholesale changes over the long term when a multitude of other competing priorities surface on a day-to-day basis. That can make change a slow process.

To find out how far the public sector has travelled on its digital journey, we surveyed some 400 public sector leaders across the NHS, police, local government and other organisations as part of our Ascent of Digital report.

The leaders we spoke to told us about the opportunities ahead, as well as the challenges they face in delivering on the promise of digital.

Many expressed their desire to accelerate the pace of digital adoption and make big changes to their services. Here are three ways they can do that:

1.     Involve people in service design: Citizens are undoubtedly front of mind for public sector leaders – 87% of respondents to our survey said their digital strategy aims to improve customer experience. But just 12% told us that citizens were highly involved in creating digital services. That’s a big disparity between those who want to help the public get the most out of digital public services, and those who are actually involving them in the process. If the public sector is to make the most of digital, it should involve its customers more in the design of its services.

2.     Change culture: Peter Drucker once infamously said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Judging by our survey, public sector leaders are well aware of that sentiment. They highlighted cultural change as the second most important issue they are facing. Some 89% of our respondents said that changing culture towards digital was challenging. There are several steps that can be taken to help organisations achieve the transition, such as radically changing the work environment and appointing agitators, such as Chief Digital Officers or other disruptors, to key posts.

3.     Attract and develop the right skills: The public sector’s ability to attract new, skilled talent will be crucial to its success over the next few years. But that’s a difficult task in a time of constrained budgets, shrinking workforces and talk of “future crises”. Just 26% of respondents told our survey they felt their organisation had sufficient skills to execute their digital strategy. Only a third believe the leadership of their organisation has sufficient skills to lead the required transformation. Achieving the potential of digital means public organisations will need to have new skills. These can either be developed or acquired, and alternative models could also be explored. These could take the form of in-house training academies or partnerships with local employers, universities and trusted suppliers. The latter would allow public sector organisations to access the skills they need in bite-size chunks – particularly useful where there is no long-term requirement for resource.

In the global context described in our The journey to government’s digital transformation report, Scotland’s public sector is making progress but still has some way to go.  While there are signs of digital maturity, much is at the early or developing stages of the maturity cycle.  This means too much focus on cost reduction rather than placing the citizen at the centre and making the investment to achieve the fundamental transformation of processes. 

In the meantime, if you have any views on how the public sector can meet these challenges please get in touch with me, drop a comment in the box below or tweet me on @jmeddes.

You may also be interested in:

The Ascent of Digital – full report
Reflection vs inflection: time to look forward to the future for public services
Public Sector IT leaders need a new skill: the art of storytelling
Digital Public Services – what if we build it and they can’t come?
State of the State

Jonathan Meddes

Jonathan Meddes - Director, Digital and Technology, Public Sector

Jonathan leads our Public Sector Digital and Technology team in Scotland.  He has over 16 years’ experience working with clients to increase their digital maturity and enable service transformation.  His clients come from across the public sector including Health, Government, and Justice.


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