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Government, industry and citizens all have a stake in a successful transformation strategy

By focusing on skills, collaboration and the citizen in its transformation strategy, government has set an ambitious plan for digital public services which deserves widespread support

The unveiling of the long-awaited government transformation strategy (GTS) followed hot on the heels of January’s industrial strategy announcement. Taken together, the pair offer an ambitious vision of how government can drive innovation in both the public and private sectors, and truly serve people better.

To a large degree, both strategies depend upon each other. Government will only be able to fulfil the industrial strategy’s pledge to use the £268bn public procurement kitty to drive market innovation if the GTS delivers on its promise to design and build innovative public services.

In delving into the detail of how the GTS will be delivered, the civil service, industry and the public need to understand what the benefits will be and feel consulted throughout the transformation period. Improving digital skills across the civil service, removing barriers to collaboration in the public sector and delivering a better digital experience for citizens will be the benchmarks of success for the GTS, and TechUK will be working with industry in these areas to offer constructive solutions.

A vital part of the GTS is improving the digital skills and capabilities of public servants. As Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer recognised in his speech at its launch, in the past, “Government has been slow to use the transformative potential of digital technology to change the way it does business”.

While the recruitment of digital specialists is important to ensure that government can deliver world-class services, the recognition that digital skills must be embedded throughout government is crucial. Civil servants from all levels and professions need to be educated on the potential that technology offers so they are willing to disrupt their existing business models and confidently embark on the transformation journey.

Government must also follow through on its pledge to break down the barriers that prevent knowledge, information and best practice from being shared between Whitehall departments and organisations. Promises to establish cross-government mechanisms and techniques and develop a common language to underpin government transformation are welcomed.

Targets to drive the adoption of common platforms such as Verify and Pay are a solid foundation, as is a desire to cut the number of online forms. These targets, however, will only be made good if individual departments support each pledge.

Read more about the government transformation strategy

As well as shared knowledge and platforms, data sharing is another fundamental part of the GTS. Civil servants must have access to the data they need to deliver the personalised services citizens expect – and are experiencing already from commercial interactions in their everyday lives. This access must, of course, be transparent and respect consumer concerns about privacy.

The Digital Economy Bill set in motion the process of greater data sharing across government, but the GTS provides an important corollary by establishing a secure framework. Creating the role of a chief data officer and the Data Advisory Board are two measures that are greatly needed as the GTS aims to balance demands of service design and privacy.

Delivering world-class services to citizens

As the minister pointed out in his speech, too often the way that government is organised doesn’t correspond to the way citizens use public services. If the GTS delivers, it looks set to address this.

The government’s industrial and transformation strategies create an important roadmap that points towards transformed public services for all citizens, built on innovative technology. But the greater the ambition the greater the challenge it will face in implementing it. The role of civil servants, industry and the public in this journey should not be underestimated, as all will be crucial in delivering world-class public services that are fit for the 21st century.

TechUK will be exploring these themes at its public sector conference, PS2030, on 11 May 2017.

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