It has been a year since Fujitsu first presented at Whitehall Media’s Central Government Business Technology (CGBT) conference in 2015.
12 months on, I was delighted to be asked by our Executive Director and VP for Public Sector Steven Cox to discuss the ways in which we see technology, especially digital, having a measurable impact on government.
We’re a digital-first nation here in the UK – the average adult spends more time using technology than sleeping, and some of us are now even using technology while sleeping.
Now more than ever, people expect the same level of technological innovation and capability from both private and public sector alike. In response, many organisations are going further than simple pixel deep, web based interaction with their customers.
Leading organisations are using digital to transform the fundamentals of how they work and provide their services. The implications are so profound that digital is being referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Traversing the Digital Tightrope – in the Public Sector
When looking at applying good practice to digital developments in government, I was surprised at the results from Fujitsu’s “Digital Tightrope” survey.
Many in government see digital only as a way to save time, money and resources. For 52% of public sector respondents, being more efficient is their digital priority – not customer experience, less rework, or better outreach.
Digital means different things to different people
So my first point is, respectfully, if you are “going digital” just to cut costs you might be doing it for the wrong reasons, or at least missing out on the full benefits.
A similar percentage, however, also admit to considering digital projects to be a gamble, and more worryingly, more than a quarter of public organisations are open about their resistance to digital adoption.
And finally, over a third (36%) say there is no clear digital strategy mapped out within their organisation; something I think is a consequence of the history, size and complexity of government. My advice would be: Don’t start unless you have an idea of where you want to end up.
In the face of these competing interests, and a lack of requisite skills to see through any digital projects, there’s an ever-present risk of stagnation. In a world that moves as quickly as digital, that risk soon transforms into one in which public bodies and the people they exist to serve can be left lagging behind.
Back in June at the Fujitsu World Tour event in London I chaired a panel on digital in government (transcript here). If there was one clear message from both, the panel and the audience, it was that digital means different things to different people – especially in government. Some organisations are born digital, some become digital and some have digital thrust upon them…
What is similar though, irrespective of your position, are customers who have a vision of where they want to go to with digital and know where they are now, yet still have some questions about the best route to employ in getting there.
Clear digital strategy
So my second point is to have a plan, or a strategic approach, a set of objectives and measures for progress. Alongside this, be careful with the language. Ministers and civil servants are not comfortable with terms like being “disruptive” – that reminds them of power cuts or train strikes, and “fail fast” is definitely a no-no.
Even “alpha”, “beta” and “live” need a lot of explanation. Iteration should move us towards a goal. If it doesn’t then, as Einstein contended: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.
Six principles of collaborative relationships
My third and final point for good practice is about collaboration and teamwork. At the beginning of this month the new Minister for Cabinet Office, the Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP, jointly launched the new Supplier Standard to build and support collaborative and constructive relationships between government IT and industry. The standard is focused on six principles:
- User needs first
- Data is a public asset
- Services build on open standards / reusable components
- Simple clear and fast transactions
- Ongoing engagement
- Transparent contracting
The main point the minister made was “no matter how large or how small your company is, this government is open for business”.
We need to have groups of customers and suppliers working together, large and small, bringing diverse skills to address business issues and to build a team (public procurement notwithstanding).
My takeaways are: Don’t do it just to save your money, look in a wider context for benefits. Have a plan, or approach, call it what you will, and build a team of energised and capable people, including suppliers, to help you get where you want to go.
A collaborative approach is something Fujitsu puts at the core of its engagement and it’s something we want to share through our relationship with the government.
Read more on technological innovation in the public sector: