Delivering on the promise of digital citizen services

65 per cent of civil servants think their existing IT infrastructure is partly to blame for holding back departments’ modernisation programmes.*

The head of the Government Digital Service (GDS) has warned that departments are guilty of prioritising policy requirements over infrastructure upgrades.

The man on the street just wants seamless access to services at a fair cost to the taxpayer.

Can cloud-based technology platforms provide the elusive win-win?

Mandated to help government work better for everyone by leading digital transformation, the GDS was set up as a centre of excellence to instil a government “digital-by-default” approach. Over the years it has navigated departmental power struggles, austerity, and periods on and off the endangered species list to transform dozens of fundamental services – making them simpler, clearer and faster.

It has championed Government as a Platform (GaaP) as a new way of building digital services. It has also provided a set of common tools and guidance, and hired hundreds of people in digital roles across government. This has reversed the public sector’s traditional outsource model, leading it to become one of the biggest technology ‘in-sourcers’. As a result, many departments now boast significant in-house development skills, yet costly legacy systems persist.

GaaP promotes sharing and reuse, making it cheaper and easier for service teams across government to design, assemble and build services who are currently frustrated by out-dated inflexible infrastructure and piecemeal procurement processes.

This has never been more important with increased pressures including Brexit, accountability and productivity demands. Therefore it’s time to shine a spotlight on the success and failures of initiatives to date in order to move forward, which leaves GaaP at a critical crossroads.

For an effective future government, policymaking and service delivery must combine to deliver better outcomes for citizens. Here, leveraging integrated platform economics through flexible, cost-effective and outcome-focused technology infrastructure will be key.

How can GDS work to truly transform Whitehall into a platform fit for the digital age?

Cloud-based technologies are integral to provide fast, easy, user-friendly experiences that citizens demand. The flexibility this provides enables the government to offer services consumers have come to expect in other areas of their lives. Just look to Amazon 1-click ordering, Uber, or PayPal money transfers as common examples. While research from comScore shows us that 70% of what people consume is through their mobile devices, so they want services such as applying for a drivers licence or claiming taxes to be accessed through this medium – and why shouldn’t they be?

Our cloud-based platform utilises intelligent digital workflows that enable government agencies to provide faster, more effective public services with more transparency, and at lower costs. This means repetitive tasks and processes can be taken on, which frees up public sector workers to do more complex work at the same time as offer end users more personalised and self-service experiences.

For example, by working with companies like ServiceNow, departments like the DVLA are starting to implement a digital-first strategy. They now provide a myriad of services via the website, from taxing your vehicle to changing your address, all without having to call and speak to a representative.

While Britain’s largest government division, the Department for Work and Pensions previously had no visibility on how they were performing, with ServiceNow it now has end-to-end oversight of its infrastructure and services. This includes capacity management, availability management and event management. As a result, the department is being empowered to focus more on the user experience, rather than purely on system performance. This outcome should serve as a great example to other public-sector departments of what can be achieved with the right type of technology.

There is still a long way to go, however. To progress in the right direction, GDS must ensure that its products and advice remain relevant. Public and private sector innovation must also be leveraged to meet the challenges that the required increasing consumerisation of government services demands – a topic I will explore further in my next post.