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Citizens want more from public sector digital transformation

Survey shows digital skills and lack of integration are among major barriers to good online government services

A report by Sopra Steria suggests that only 58% of the UK believes digital transformation has had a positive impact on the quality of public services, with the lack of integration, particularly in policing, becoming a growing concern. 

The research conducted by Ipsos looked at responses from 4,000 citizens of the UK, France, Germany and Norway (1,000 in the UK) to assess the uptake and impact of digital government. 

The report showed that 66% of the public believe digital tools are becoming increasingly easy to use, making citizens more engaged. However, only 17% of the public said they’re using government digital services at least every month, with 35% using digital services every six months. 

Similarly, 83% recognised that the public sector had increased the number of digital public services, and 64% deemed the degree of digital development in the UK to be advanced, with only Norway scoring significantly higher at 75%. 

The creation of the Government Digital Service (GDS) in 2012 laid the groundwork for changing government IT, and has created a huge drive for digital transformation in government.

However, it has not always been a smooth ride. One of most talked about services to come out of GDS is Verify, which has faced severe criticism from experts and the public alike.

Other major concerns revolve around the lack of integration in the areas of health, education, and justice and police, with the latter increasing significantly in priority since 2016. 

Police sirens on?

The lack of integration of digital systems by the police force has been highlighted as a key issue by the force itself.

This is possibly portrayed best by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Thomas Winsor, who wrote in the annual state of policing report published in April 2016: “The chronic lack of interoperability between forces’ ICT systems [which is a Strategic Policing Requirement (SPR)] clearly demonstrates that having regard to the SPR is not enough and that forces need to go much further.

“Until the police service has a fully functional, interoperable system of ICT networks, efficiency and effectiveness are impaired, and public safety is imperilled.”

Winsor also suggested that the steps taken in the digital transformation were inefficient because of the lack of collaboration between forces, and this must be prioritised to improve the services.

However, things are slowly changing. One initiative looking to instate integration began in December 2017, when the Gloucestershire Constabulary announced that it has been working with SAS to improve policing strategies, gain real-time insight into incidents and identify crime hotspots.

“With police budgets across the country under pressure, it’s vital that we look for every opportunity to operate more efficiently and use the latest data-driven tools in the fight against crime”
Bob Keeble, Gloucestershire Constabulary

Bob Keeble, continuous improvement manager at Gloucestershire Constabulary, believes that along with improving the effectiveness of the officers, the move is also the perfect way to deal with budget cuts.  

“With police budgets across the country under pressure, it’s vital that we look for every opportunity to operate more efficiently and use the latest data-driven tools in the fight against crime,” said Keeble. 

“To ensure that we focus on the issues that are most important to our residents, we need a breakdown of the locations and times when criminals are most likely to strike. 

“We also wanted to gain a deeper understanding of long-term trends for serious offences, such as burglary and rape, to discover the influence of various factors, such as seasonality. This insight enables us to deploy our resources in the most effective way to prevent crimes, create awareness campaigns and protect residents.”

The force said it would also use the insight to improve accountability by providing crime maps and performance indicators for the public. 

The Sopra Steria report suggests that the correct integration of systems can result in increased participation, although only around half of UK citizens said online discussions and consultation would improve the way democracy works. 

It also found that a whopping 70% have little confidence in the security of digital data, while 48% worry someone else will access their data or accounts. Sopra Steria called on the government to “redouble efforts” to enhance controls around security. 

Does the UK pass the digital skills test?

The Sopria Steria report also highlights that the lack of digital skills for both civil servants and the public is a key barrier to digital transformation. Nearly half of those surveyed said they often needed help with digital public services, or had more significant difficulties. 

Research conducted in 2017 by Barclays found that 40% of people in the UK do not have digital skills required for most jobs.

The issue is said to affect people increasingly with age. Many children believe they are gaining the digital skills needed for the workplace in schools, but those between the ages of 35 and 55 are particularly worried about their tech knowledge, with only 23% confident they can keep their digital skills up to date. 

To ensure children are gaining the technology and digital skills they need for future roles, the government implemented a computing curriculum to teach children between the ages of five and 16 concepts such as coding and computational thinking.

But there are concerns that these skills are not filtering quickly enough through the pipeline to fill digital skills gaps and, since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, there has been an emphasis on building UK tech talent to fill empty digital roles in the future.

To ensure the UK stays on top of its digital skills needs, the government recently launched a survey aiming to find out what skills employers are seeking now and what will be required in the future, to better prepare everyone for the constantly evolving digital revolution. 

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