Digital as a destination: How far down the roadmap are we?

Thu 09 Feb 2017

The digital-by-default drive that saw paper services transferred online in what is frequently referred to as the move to e-government, a precursor to digitalisation. The popular perception is that we are well along the path of digitalisation but is this accurate?

Back in 2014, the OECD made the distinction between e-government and digital government and it’s a concept that analyst house, Gartner, has run with, this year suggesting a roadmap that leads from digitalisation to open data sharing before achieving the nirvana of ‘smart government’. Smart government will see government digitalised to such a degree that it is emancipated and in a position to evaluate and implement new technologies and transformative methods.

And yet, while it pays to keep an eye on the future, there are still many issues that need to be addressed today. Bureaucracy still reigns supreme. Digitalisation is causing some to question whether their jobs are at risk. Brexit has seen the re-evaluation of budgets and project plans. All of these factors could jeopardise the progress of digitalisation unless we are able to assess, justify and refocus… and that means looking at the bottom line.

Reports state that access via conventional channels can be extremely costly: a face-to-face interaction costs £8.62, while a phone call costs £2.83 and a web message just 15p. A recent blog post on GOV.UKlooked in detail at the problem of paper post. It costed letter creation and writing at £3.00 per letter. That compares to just 50p per letter if using a template that could be automatically populated with content such as that provided by a case management solution, which can of course then be repurposed reducing costs into the future. Without the ability to make those changes quickly over a digital solution, the cost shoots up to £12,000 per change to that letter. So if a letter were changed twice or three times a year, that could equate to £28,000. Finally, badly drafted letters were found to have a reverse effect on channel shift, accounting for up to 40 percent of call centre traffic.

There’s little doubt that digitalisation can and does create channel shift. The self-service portal we devised for HM Passport Office at the beginning of this year saw a shift of 70 percent of applicants to the online channel, away from its call centre. But there remains a large proportion of government departments who have only partially implemented digital access channels and who have yet to extend these processes through to the back office.

The statistics shared in the GOV.UK blog post reveal just how important it is to ensure customer-facing front office services feed through to digitalised back office processes. The costs of creating, issuing, and changing letters and handling enquiries is substantial. Notably, the authors state that “some teams already have comprehensive case management systems… but other teams need to create and manage templates to generate letters” which reveals just how piecemeal deployment is and the need for case management solutions that can provide end-to-end delivery.

Going forward, government organisations must also begin to look at the costs associated with back office processes and how these can be reduced and made more efficient. Both front and back office operations need to become part of an end-to-end process to realise these gains. In the case of the Legal Aid Agency, for example, the design of digital customer interface was complemented by a staff facing approvals process. The time taken to process applications on behalf of Legal Aid Services Providers was slashed to half, from 20 days to 10 or less.

Addressing digitalisation as an end-to-end process can realise cost and convenience benefits. And that means engaging staff, as well as citizens, in the digitalisation process in the move towards ‘smart’ government.