It’s time for the government’s digital strategy to take flight

In the wake of the Spending Review, Sopra Steria’s MD of Central Government, John Baskerville, sits down to discuss the next generation of digital services

By Sopra Steria

21 Dec 2015

"The last five years of digital transformation have seen the government make significant progress. The challenge is to build on this foundation, to ensure the delivery of end-to-end digital services at enterprise scale that enhance efficiency, reduce cost, and provide a brilliant user experience." That is the view of John Baskerville, MD of Central Government at digital transformation leader Sopra Steria. 

“Investment in digital is an important feature of the 2015 Spending Review,” he continues. “The government clearly sees its importance to achieving cost-reduction targets and improving service delivery. But to make this happen, there needs to be an ongoing effort to capitalise on the positive outcomes already achieved.”

Putting the user at the centre
Baskerville is in no doubt about where these positive outcomes can be identified. Digital has provided an opportunity to model a new way of collaborative working in government, delivering advantages for the public sector, its suppliers and citizens. 

“Digital puts users at the centre of everything,” he explains. “That means ensuring IT works to improve their experience, as well as enabling the service deliverer to operate in a more agile fashion.”

Baskerville references a digital success story, with which Sopra Steria was intimately involved. 

“We worked with the Home Office on the online publication and dissemination of the Hillsborough Report in 2012,” he explains. “This involved collaboration between officials and suppliers, who were united in a commitment to ensure that the technology worked without hitches. We didn’t want    the media focus to be on IT failures, because we felt that would be disrespectful to the Hillsborough families.”

When the stakes are high,  Baskerville is of the view that the government and its supplier community work together at their best.  

Bold, joined-up thinking
“That’s an encouragement to bold thinking,” he avers. “If the government really wants to realise the benefits of digital transformation, it needs to scale digital services up to enterprise level, so they operate across the public sector.”

The focus of digital needs to extend beyond citizen services, to encompass the back- and middle-office functions of the government itself. “The opportunities presented by Government as a Platform, and the urgent need to address the built-up Technical Debt, all mean  that government really could be at an inflexion point for the use of technology,” he asserts.

“If you think of users, you need to think of civil servants who use technology to deliver services, and not just the citizens at the end of it all. By identifying opportunities for digital throughout government, the public sector can really start to achieve the efficiencies that this technology offers.”

This requires more than just close working between the government and its supply chain, even though Baskerville sees that as crucial to success. It also necessitates an ongoing commitment to collaboration across government departments. 

“The last five years have seen real progress in joining up different areas of the Civil Service,” he remarks. “We need to continue pursuing this trajectory to make the most of digital, and prevent departments from reinventing the wheel.”

Baskerville points to the Geo-Spatial Information System that Sopra Steria has developed for Defra and the Rural Payments Agency. “It has been made available to the government via open source,” he reports. “Rather than paying for the development of new software from the ground up, with the requisite collaboration, this GDS compliant, open-mapping solution could potentially be reused across government.” 

Finding the right skills
Of course, to make the most of such technology, the government needs to have the right skills. It needs people who can make judgments about the best way to implement digital and discern when to call in expertise from the private sector. 

“According to Sopra Steria’s recent Digital Trends survey of civil servants, 75 per cent said that digital transformation has impacted their work already, and 67 per cent saw the public benefit of putting services online,” Baskerville states. “This shows goodwill in the government workforce towards the adoption of digital.  It makes sense to have the skills base to capitalise on that.”

One way of doing so is to pursue just the sort of collaborative working that is Baskerville’s overarching model for digital transformation in government. This involves drawing in suppliers at an early stage in a project’s life cycle, and working in partnership to scope, specify and deliver against targets that are identified across government.

“I can’t emphasise enough that collaboration is the most important aspect in delivering digital at scale within government,” he concludes. “We need to work across sectors and departments to effect real change. Think for a minute of government, or any enterprise, as a caterpillar. The role of digital transformation isn’t just to make the caterpillar run faster. We want it to grow wings, become a butterfly, and take flight

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