Focusing on ‘digital civic moments’ could create a truly joined-up government

Written by Peter Ford on 15 April 2018 in Opinion

Peter Ford of Pegasytems believes Whitehall has both the necessary will and technology to achieve its ambitions of operating as a single entity

Exactly how joined-up are existing government processes? 
GOV.UK was set up to be to be the one-stop-shop for all HM Government services and information, effectively acting as a constituent-facing catalogue from which people can browse and select services for all government departments. In an ideal world, this would have provided the level of connectivity between all the different public-sector services that many have long asked for. So, why are we still seeing cases where there is a need to simultaneously contact multiple government agencies? 
Such instances can include stressful key life events such as the loss of a job, a health incident, or the start-up of a new business. Or, when someone passes away, it might be necessary to cancel a passport or driving licence, or stop Council Tax benefit. Because events of this nature have such a significant impact on people, it’s key that a high level of customer service is provided, facilitated by easy to use digital platforms and tools – the last thing anybody going through a stressful period needs is to have their burden added to by poor, disconnected and time-consuming customer service.
What this means is that it is almost inevitable that we will see digital transformation feature more prominently throughout the public sector and the acceleration of a more joined-up government over the next year. Processes used by constituents dealing with any government service should become intuitive and seamless, providing instant access to data and services from any agency within the UK. Put simply, members of the public will not have to fret about which agencies they need to approach because referral between departments and public bodies etc. will be automatic. 

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However, for a technology-led, joined-up government to succeed, it is necessary to be aware of the three interaction types in government constituent service, events that Gartner refer to as ‘digital civic moments’:

Regulatory – services such as tax collection, and the issuing of licenses that are mandatory for the constituent
Discretionary – those such as welfare claims or library services
Proactive – services that should be provided by government at key life moments, such as those previously described 
Fortunately, these interactions are beginning to be recognised across government as a whole, and there is evidence signalling that connections are starting to be made. One example is divorce, where tax obligations on transferring assets when a civil relationship ends are proactively set out alongside other related non-tax impacts and services, with access points to them provided. 
So, how can we implement the right technology to facilitate this new approach, and avoid another major government programme failure as a result of a big-bang approach? Fortunately, the early disruptive influence of Government Digital Service and the Government IT Strategy from 2012 has put an end to monolithic government contracts. Consequently, Government agencies have more flexibility when it comes to seeking appropriate digital solutions. The check-list for new solutions requires that they are: 
Allow for no vendor lock-in
It should be noted that the previous government strategy to adopt bespoke development for all solutions was a clear mistake. Moving forward, as long as avoiding vendor lock-in and other pre-requisites set out above are satisfied, new application software that facilitates agility and allows for rapid change by every government agency will gain resonance as the way forward to deliver change. As these solutions become more common throughout government, a connected approach will emerge. 
By exploiting disparate legacy systems and data, whilst presenting a customer-centric service and integrating AI capabilities, we are making those first steps towards a joined-up government. Secondly, the implementation of shared process Hubs – such as those already seen across Europe, including DICTU in the Netherlands – will help streamline common services, such as payments, collections and constituent registration. Although, each agency may still utilise them from different government organisations.
Lastly, organisational service hubs will be a further extension of process hubs, whereby efficiency gains made by implementing a revised government-service organisation structure are streamlined to also deliver constituent service improvements.
Some parts of government will move quicker than others and, therefore, each of these strategies may overlap. It is clear, though, that all three tactics now have the necessary system solutions and recognition to be implemented to truly transform our public services. 
About the author

Peter Ford is public sector industry principle at Pegasystems

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