Keeping tabs on transformation: Why tracking progress will be crucial for success

Written by Jane Roberts on 2 March 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

A lack of benchmarking data on digital transformation programmes in government makes it hard to evaluate success at a time when it has ever been more important, says Jane Roberts, strategy director at TopLevel. 

The government needs to make sure it has something to measure itself against on digital transformation - Photo credit: Pixabay

Digital projects have a reputation for running away with costs. But with a growing reliance on digital and technology to drive forward cross-government reforms, being able to track progress will become increasingly important.

The government’s recent transformation strategy is an ambitious one, which aims to sweep away the artificial constructs and confines of ownership over digital.

The strategy refers to the need for better use of data, reusable shared resources and cross-departmental digital services that “span multiple central government bodies, local authorities, devolved administrations, the third sector or outsourced services”.

It’s hard to fault the document’s lofty aims, but where it falls down is in its ability to back them up with some cold hard numbers.

In his analysis of the strategy, Daniel Thornton of the think tank the Institute for Government laments – among other things – a failure to identify clear priorities and trade-offs, little explanation of how resources will be allocated and a lack of measurable baselines.

“A good strategy can be measured against where things stand now,” he says. “In this case, government needs to know how many services it currently provides, how many are digital (that meet quality standards), and how many will be transformed by 2020. But there is no list of central government services.”


Related content

Senior buy-in and real incentives 'urgently needed' to make transformation strategy a success
Government promises ‘deep transformation’ in long-awaited strategy


A lack of benchmark data on how far digitalisation has progressed makes it extremely difficult to establish success to date, at a time when being able to keep tabs on transformation is going to be an ever-more important issue.

The strategy is effectively asking departments to combine and share resources, and that means sharing their budget. It may even see one department paying for a service that another department uses without any investment.

While this makes sense from a digital perspective it’s likely to stick in the craw of those paying the bill, particularly given the insinuation that those with more mature service offerings are going to have to pull their brethren up to their level.

There are also questions over how to measure the success of transformation projects given the variety of scope and size of the programmes underway in government – something raised by National Audit Office director Max Tse at a conference in London last month.

And the renewed emphasis on making policy and development co-dependent – while a sensible interpretation of the agile approach – will make it even more difficult to ascertain whether a project has achieved an objective that may well have changed during the course of the project.

In the absence of past metrics and future forecasts, there are some substantial caveats that must be applied to the government’s efforts to push ahead with large-scale transformations.

First, there needs to be a much more widespread adoption of public cloud services to facilitate data sharing. The launch of UK datacentres by AWS, Microsoft and IBM should help facilitate this, finally providing government departments with the assurance of data sovereignty and providing economy of scale.

Thus far, migration of data to the cloud has been slow, but hopefully the abolition of the Public Service Network will drive up adoption.

Second, the optimisation of services needs to be addressed more comprehensively. While optimisation budgets are mandatory, they are often be pillaged to cover other project costs. Without money in the coffers, services may quickly date while departments perform the much-needed work on digitalising their backend processes.

Third, services need to become more data-driven, rather than simply being user-focused, so that they are department agnostic. Value can then be realised through sharing information more widely, eradicating overlap or duplication of effort.

This in turn will help digital projects deliver a better return over time. IT can be used to reduce costs but in order to so it has to realise efficiency gains and use economies of scale.

Fourth, the government needs to realise that technology is the enabler that will empower the people its new strategy focuses on.

The Digital Academy – which has now come under the control of the Government Digital Service – will train 3,000 civil servants a year, but that pales into insignificance when you consider that there are approximately 420,000 civil servants in government today.

Why not empower all of them? If projects adopt sympathetic technologies that require minimal coding, more can participate in the transformation process and their involvement will ensure success.

However, in our critiques of the Government Transformation Strategy it should be remembered that it is exactly that: a strategy. It’s not a framework or manifesto. Its role is to inspire, inform and give an indication of future expectation, and in that regard it’s not a roadmap for transformation.

But transformation needs to do more than provide us with a vision of an ideal future. The government also needs to be accountable, and its mission clear. The current lack of transparency can only endanger that vision.

About the author

Jane Roberts is strategy director at Toplevel.

Share this page

Tags

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Test and Trace signs £9m one-year AWS deal
26 May 2021

Contract – which is not signed under the terms of the public sector-wide OGVA – covers provision of cloud services

Unwrapping government’s £300m Amazon package
7 May 2021

Since a public sector-wide agreement with AWS was introduced six months ago, departments have signed contracts worth hundreds of millions with the cloud firm. PublicTechnology takes...

Related Sponsored Articles

Social justice: how the police can embrace online channels of citizen communication
17 June 2021

PublicTechnology talks to Salesforce about why police forces need to adopt new omnichannel capabilities, offer the public channel choice and the benefits of doing so

"The inflection point is here": how Covid is driving digital transformation in health
9 June 2021

It’s been one of the most challenging years for healthcare providers, but Salesforce sees lasting change from accelerated digital transformation

The largest ever UK public sector cloud transformation unlocks cost savings and innovation
17 May 2021

Cloud-based applications can provide ways for agencies and departments to innovate and operate in new ways, as the past year has highlighted they must, writes Oracle