Civil service tech upgrade – ‘People want mobile solutions that measure up to standards of their everyday lives’

MoJ operations chief gives update on progress of shared-services strategy

Whitehall is experimenting with mobile technology to improve the internal processes used by civil servants, after recognising that current systems are not of a standard that it “would consider acceptable for the public”.

Matthew Coats, chief operating officer at the Ministry of Justice, published an update yesterday on the government’s shared services strategy, which aims to improve civil servants’ interactions with back office services.

Coats, who is responsible for shared services at the Cabinet Office, said civil servants are increasingly working flexibly and “intuitive mobile solutions” were being developed to meet their needs.

“User research tells us that people want intuitive mobile solutions that measure up to the standards of technology we use in our everyday lives,” he said, adding that there had been a massive improvement in the quality of digital services offered to the public.

“But while the Technology Code of Practice has helped to improve the services we offer staff, those services are often some way from what we would consider acceptable for the public.”

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In an article for civil service blogs, Coats said the first browser-based “SOP Mobile offering for staff” had been launched at the Cabinet Office and the Environment Agency, and some off-the-shelf apps were being beta-tested. The government would be listening to user feedback while developing that service, he said.

Coats pointed to the progress government had made to digitise public-facing services, but added: “The transactions we all make as employees also really matter and include things like performance management and checking our payslips.

“It’s important that we bring this digital approach to our internal processes and systems, making government digital on the inside too.”

He said he had agreed to work on three “broad priorities” on shared services.

First, improving the services offered by Cabinet Office-backed Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL), including the Single Operating Platform which is the “largest platform of its type in Europe” and enables civil servants to make transactions online.

“It has been successful, but we’ve found that people increasingly want a solution that’s more similar to the digital services they use in their day to day lives,” Coats said.

Second, to develop a strategy for the whole of government, which was published in January and includes plans to develop these mobile solutions for civil servants.

“The vision is that civil servants will be able to claim expenses, book their holidays, and check their pay check where ever they are and in a way that suits them,” he explained.

Third, Coats said he wants to develop the capability and relationships of Government Shared Services, which is “a permanent centre of excellence rather than a change programme”.

“I’d like to start to build the community of shared services experts around government,” he added.

Civil service head Sir Jeremy Heywood tweeted about the update, stating that recent efforts to become digital-by-default for internal systems as well as public-facing services were “saving time and money and improving ways of working”.

Separately, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, answering a parliamentary question yesterday on the timetable for departmental shared services, said government had committed to converging on a single set of processes for all HR and finance transactional services across the civil service.

He added: “To date, this work has focussed on designing and agreeing processes for HR and Finance. That design phase is now complete.

“HR and finance are now working with departments to understand the gap between the current position and compliance with these agreed processes. This information will be used to set dates and targets for compliance as per the ambition set out in the strategy.”

Sam Trendall

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