Understanding the Digital Transformation of Government: a progress report

Research from Sopra Steria and Dods shows how far government's digital agenda has come, and where the challenges remain

Digital is everywhere. It is all around us. Every day it seems to encroach on our lives in different ways. Yet it can also bring with it a growing sense of empowerment and enablement, injecting pace into the execution of the mundane, and bringing an energy into our lives, derived from the ease with which we can now connect to friends, family and colleagues alike. For many of us, the digital experiences in our personal lives set expectations of an increased pace of execution and ease of change in our business lives. And why shouldn’t they?

As we all know, on November 25, the chancellor will set out the government’s strategy for reforming public services in the 2015 Spending Review. It is a fairly safe bet to assume this will include more departmental budget cuts, perhaps in the region of £20bn over the next five years.

Talk about an enormous and complex challenge for the civil service! Significant savings and efficiencies have already been delivered and further savings will be difficult to find. Digital will no doubt continue to grow as a key enabler for government reform, and I feel certain the challenge ahead will increase the pressure on civil servants in terms of leadership demands, capacity and in key skills such as digital.

In order to really understand how our colleagues in Whitehall view the challenges ahead, we decided to ask them directly by commissioning Dods Research to survey civil servants about the progress and value of digital transformation. The response was overwhelming. We received an unprecedented 2,374 replies from all levels of seniority and a wide range of departments across Whitehall – providing a robust assessment of your own view of the progress of digital transformation across government.

We found that the digital agenda has made a significant impact across the civil service. Three quarters of civil servants confirmed that it had an influence on their work, and for nearly a third it was a major focus of what they did. Civil servants also recognised the benefits, both for users and themselves, of putting services online and making existing services easier to use.

A good start, but the survey also highlighted some of the hurdles facing the civil service when implementing digital transformation…

First, the journey to deliver effective digital services starts with putting the user first. The majority of civil servants were confident that their organisation had a good understanding of a typical user, but only just over one third regularly used insight from customer data to help design services.

Second, users need basic digital skills and capabilities to realise the benefits of digital services. Nearly a third of civil servants cited digital exclusion as an obstacle to the wider uptake of digital services (just one of the reasons why Sopra Steria signed the Government’s Digital Inclusion Charter). In turn, this will naturally limit the benefits some changes might otherwise be able to deliver in support of the spending challenge.

Third, civil servants require new skills if they are to redesign services and deliver them digitally. Nearly four in 10 civil servants thought the training they received was not adequate. Some who worked directly on digital transformation projects reported they had received no training whatsoever.

Finally, civil servants need to win backing for digital technology through a clearly specified business case. However, many civil servants reported that there were challenges in defining and tracking the progress of digital transformation through robust cost, benefits and impact measures.

The survey shows there has already been considerable progress towards digital transformation but that there is room for improvement – particularly in establishing the skills and measures of success, and in truly understanding the user. These will all be necessary if the challenge of the Spending Review is to be met.

We intend to run the survey next year and ask all of you in the civil service how you think this digital transformation of government is progressing. Before that, though, if you would like more details about the findings of this year’s survey, you can find the summary report at here. If you’d like to discuss the results in detail and share your own views, or understand how you could easily begin to measure you own team’s skills or your digital maturity as an organisation, please contact us. We’d be happy to visit you, or perhaps host you and your team at our DigiLab facilities.

Read more about the Sopra Steria Digital Trends Survey here

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