Should Digitalisation give way to Transformation or Evolution?

Mon 27 Feb 2017

Digitalisation is so last year; now it’s all about transformation. The renaming of the Government Digital Strategy as the Government Transformation Strategy, published in February, is more than just a rebrand, however. It aims to show that digitalisation is a constant dynamic ongoing process.

Three years ago, Francis Maude benchmarked the progress of e-government in the UK, pointing to the digitalisation of 25 public services and sharing his vision for the government-as-a-platform model. He talked of ensuring everyone who could be would be online by 2020. But the emphasis has had to change; there’s now an appreciation that there’s a whole lot more to digital government than simply taking processes online.

There’s a need to…

  • extend that provision to back-office processes and to connect disparate systems to eradicate data silos
  • share and collaborate to maximise the reuse of systems adopted in successful digitalisation projects, and
  • embrace digital not as a technology but as a process that emancipates both citizen and staff and paves the way for the adoption of new processes and technologies into the future.

In short, digitalisation is both continuous and endless. This presents a real problem for a sector focused on results which must no acclimatise and culturally adapt to consider not digitalisation nor even really transformation but the evolution of services.

The secret to achieving this will be effective service optimisation. GDS service standards mandate that for digital services, the public sector should plan and budget for service optimisation to allow for the continued updates and refinements. But this is still an alien concept for a sector used to spending the allocated capital budget rather then earmarking some for the future compounded further by a low appetite for continued improvement.

Without that budget many digital projects will stop being iterative in approach post-deployment , will date and become inaccessible warranting an ‘upgrade’. This endangers trust in the service and could even see a reverse in channel shift.

If service optimisation is factored in from the beginning, digital projects can be self-adaptive. There are various ways to do this:

  • Self-service optimisation: teams undertake to test changes and optimise the service themselves
  • External support: in the form of periodic review cycles. Typically undertaken every six months or every year, these reviews can then be used to structure a mini-project to identify and implement change with minimal disruption and maximum efficiency
  • RFC process: enabling urgent or response-driven change, this involves requirements capture through to an impact assessment then approval and implementation of the change

Having self-optimisation and contingency plans like this in place will help facilitate moves to new forms of technology which existing services will need to integrate with to remain viable.

Digital projects must overcome institutional resistance to change. Does this mean digitalisation is endless? Yes. But while that may seem a difficult concept it’s also liberating. Because it’s not a summit to be reached, a goal or achievement in itself; it’s a process that is dynamic and can be constantly revised and improved to fulfil it’s potential, so that digital government doesn’t merely transform but evolves.