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IT transformation steps pave the path to new ways to work

The CEO of Difrent discusses how her roles in local and central government have played a role in public sector IT transformation

My first role for the public sector was back in 2003, working in local government, with central government following 10 years later. Since then, I’ve added some private, startup and a big chunk of healthcare into the mix.

As far back as 2003, I remember money being tight in local government, I probably worked in the areas of local government with less funding than others; social care and a smattering of housing and corporate property.

At this time, on-premise infrastructure services were pretty much the way forward, and although I remember seconding social workers over as subject matter experts to configure the social care system, it was highly unusual for IT teams to not just roll a vanilla system out. This application was a “fat client” and wasn’t initially available on the web, and despite many debates about remote working, it wasn’t en vogue. When we did pilot it, the “mobile” devices were huge, and often got stolen.

Fast forward 10 years, I arrived into my first role in central government. The initial shock of actually having access to funding threw me. I was running an IT department for the Department for Education (DfE) that spent £50m a year running IT services for 5,000 staff and into schools around the UK. At this time, the datacentre was on-premise, and part of my role was to look at cost-saving and moving it out, and some of the many ITIL service desks out to the cloud; something we successfully achieved.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) were starting to make waves and spend controls were in play; we were working holistically across government to share our lists of contracts and leveraging the deals that had been done at the centre to reduce our expenditure on licences; Oracle and Microsoft had been put under pressure by Liam Maxwell and team.

Over the next seven years, I led a number of organisations in their transformation of IT services into patient and client-facing digital services.

Most notably was the launch of Revalidation (this is the process where registered nurses and midwives are required every three years to demonstrate they remain fit to practice) while I was at Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), where we put 800,000 nurses live across four countries. These services had previously been delivered by posting letters out to nurses and midwives and taking payments over the phone.

Read more about public sector IT transformation

  • Extensive research into cloud adoption trends in the public sector by Government Digital Service (GDS) results in guidance detailing how IT leaders can make the most of their off-premise investments.
  • Research firm Tussell’s study into G-Cloud reveals majority of suppliers listed in its report did not earn any revenue in 2018 through the public sector framework.

When I joined NHS Digital, the role was entirely patient-facing and was predicated initially on transforming the flat file content service, NHS Choices, and building out live transactional services.

Choices was rebranded as NHS.UK and became the front door to a raft of transactional services including the provision of Wi-Fi across every hospital and GP surgery in the country (something that has helped us massively during the current Covid-19 crisis).

These transactional services also provided the ability to book appointments, access your medical records, authenticate your identity with the NHS and consume services through the NHS App with the provision of hundreds of apps through the NHS Apps Library. Even three years ago, this was a fundamental shift from how patients had engaged with the NHS.

The Covid-19 crisis has leveraged the platforms that have been built to plug further into that ecosystem and allow for a number of new services to be built. 

The journey that we started three years ago has allowed for the transformation of health-tech and provisions to occur at pace and scale. Pre-Covid we were having an uphill battle with telemedicine being adopted and virtual consultations were probably less than 20% of the service provided; fast forward less than six weeks and we have probably swung those numbers around.

Many people are saying we are in the “new norm”. I’m not sure we are yet. I doubt we have even scratched the surface, but the ability for the tech to be able to provide safe and stable services during an unprecedented crisis makes me realise I chose the right area to work in all those years ago.

Rachel Murphy is the CEO of Difrent.

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