It’s been two years since the launch of the Government Transformation Strategy, a comprehensive document issued by the Cabinet Office, covering everything from creating citizen-centric public services to ensuring government buildings have interoperable technology.
While the strategy is rightly ambitious, many of its outcomes will be achieved through small, manageable changes. These tiny, often invisible developments are already underway and are having a profound impact.
For example, health secretary Matthew Hancock recently announced that pagers will be banished from the NHS within the next three years—with hospitals turning to mobile phones and apps instead, to cut costs, improve communication and boost efficiency.
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On the surface a relatively small change, but one with significant implications for the health sector—accelerating important processes and delivering speedier outcomes for patients.
Similarly, the Ministry of Justice has been stepping up its investment in digitisation, as shown by the launch of a new online civil money claims service in March last year—with public satisfaction rates of around 90 per cent already being reported.
All the signs so far suggest we could soon reach the stage where public sector bodies no longer have to deal with piles of paperwork or find their plans for digital innovation derailed by concerns about legacy systems.
If the Government Transformation Strategy’s objectives are achieved, citizens will benefit from public services that make their lives easier, and civil servants will feel empowered to achieve their objectives much faster. But, as the government’s transformation agenda moves into its next phase, what should the focus areas be?
Deciding on a winning structure
Part of meeting the Government’s ambitions is embedding a winning structure at the heart of digital transformation projects. By 2020, the Government plans to have delivered at least 86 digital services using an end-to-end structure where members of the public can follow simple step-by-step online processes to achieve their goals. Not only is this an example of positive digital change, it also demonstrates the power of digitisation to make people’s lives less stressful and more straightforward.
The Government has also adopted a structure for user verification, known as Gov Verify, which allows people to access 18 key central government services, including checking income tax on HMRC and claiming for a redundancy payment via the Insolvency Service. Unifying user authentication systems might seem like a small, routine change, it’s actually a major structural development that has delivered added convenience for users and, for example, has encouraged people to check their tax codes for accuracy.
While there has clearly been progress, the next step is for public sector leaders to focus on enhancing infrastructure. The importance of constant and secure connectivity can sometimes be deprioritised in the public sector—perhaps because networks are ultimately invisible forces.
However, it’s crucial to remember that digitisation is ultimately driven by networks which not only process the data that drives public service delivery, but also manage pressures on the system from customers and adapt bandwidth management accordingly. Moreover, these networks need to be secure, otherwise they risk exposing confidential information and compromising the integrity of entire public services. Rolling out next generation networks will be vital to delivering the next tranche of iterative improvements.
Secure and compliant public service networks
One key challenge is responding to demands for remote working. By 2020, the Government expects 70 per cent of departments to comply with the Smart Working Code of Practice written up by the British Standards Institute—which means they will need to update their technology to support flexible working for civil servants.
This is particularly complex for the public sector, as there are different levels of security to consider across different departments influencing the extent to which a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) policy could be introduced, for example.
However, there’s no doubt that to attract top talent, support for remote working will need to be delivered—and a large part of that will involve empowering employees to access a corporate VPN while they are on the move. Delivering this is critical for an organisation, and public sector leaders should seek a strategic technology partner that can act as a co-pilot in this journey.
Overall, while there are encouraging signs, there’s still work to be done to implementing winning structures and deliver twenty-first century services for citizens. The public sector needs to continually implement small changes, ensure data and knowledge is shareable and put power in the hands of people.
Martin McFadyen, Head of Public Sector at Virgin Media Business
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Martin McFadyen is Head of Public Sector at Virgin Media Business.