Government needs to act ‘lightning fast’ on latest digital transformation roadmap

O Communications

A digital transformation roadmap unveiled by the Government this month is excitingly ambitious, but the mammoth challenge needs a different approach if it’s not doomed to fail, says one tech entrepreneur.

Government policy paper “2022 to 2025 Roadmap for Digital and Data, Transforming for a Digital Future” launched to set out a digital ambition to create a more joined-up and efficient government.

Stating “people expect government services to be as good as the best online experiences in the private sector. Rising to meet these expectations will require change on a scale that government has never undertaken before” the UK government is setting to improve the way it uses digital and data to enable it to operate more efficiently.

Digital transformation experts SPG believe it’s destined to fail unless the public sector embraces a new way of tackling the mammoth challenge and not replicate the slow and painful projects of the past.

Gareth Humphreys, Consulting Partner at SPG, says: “The technology landscape we are talking about is highly complex, broad, and expansive so it’s going to be incredibly difficult with so many disparate systems, extensive legacy estate and a variety of user-facing services.

“This leaves government IT leaders with a near-impossible task – to optimise the technology estate without breaking line of business systems. Splitting the roadmap into missions is a good start but it will be interesting to see how each mission is cascaded and executed by the different government departments.

We have to consider if the timeline is realistic. Looking at past track record, large and complex government transformation projects don’t often run to time and budget. Commissioning of the programme is a positive, however history tells us it is highly ambitious - that said, if you aim for nothing then that’s what you hit!“

SPG has found that post-pandemic, whilst IT leaders are desperate to embrace digital transformation, they are struggling with ‘discovery fatigue’ because the standard approach to defining the path is to perform an expensive and long-winded discovery phase, reaching far into an organisation’s inner-workings and requiring a lengthy period of time to complete and report back on.

To counter this problem, SPG has developed Lightning Insights; a superfast approach that accelerates the path to a tech solution that makes the most of time, energy, and budget.

Gareth adds: “From our experience of large projects, Lightning Insights is far more effective than drawn-out discovery projects and provide a faster and more agile process by focussing on the big obstacles first. We then move quickly to identify and isolate root causes, iteratively examining potential solutions along the way, with learnings, feedback and progress shared in real-time.”

Having worked extensively on large digital transformation projects with large central government departments and health organisations like Ambulance Trusts, Gareth has responded to some the policy paper’s key points:

The costly issue of legacy IT:

“This is crucial, because the ability to transform will be constrained if the time taken to modernise legacy is prolonged. In SPG’s experience you can transform the user-facing front end, but this needs to be in lock step with the back-end platform. To do so shouldn’t mean years of technical discovery. Government needs to harness the nimble, responsive consultancies that have the best interests of the department at heart. By quickly validating the near-term roadmap and being prepared to move at pace, the never ending cycle of analysis and discovery is avoided. A phrase we use a lot is ‘analysis paralysis’ because fear of risk is prohibitive to rate of change.”

People and culture:

“The digital skills piece is crucially important because central government struggles to attract and retain tech talent, hence is highly reliant on suppliers and independent sub-contractors, that leave no corporate memory on exit. It’s also important to consider ethical suppliers are needed if this deadline is to be met. The ‘97% of civil servants upskilled’ aim is great, but there is a huge discrepancy between public and private pay scales that is difficult to resolve.”

Mission 3 on better data:

“The sheer volume of data is unparalleled across government, with major data quality improvements and cleansing required, making this mission complex and difficult. The question therefore is, where is the starting point? The programme needs clear definition of an enterprise information management strategy, which must be stringently enforced to stop deviation without exception.”

Gareth concludes: “The Chancellor recently committed to investing an additional £8 billion in digital, data and technology transformation by 2025 but we believe government needs to work with the new breed of agile technology suppliers that are experienced in tackling these challenges but in a more innovative way. Ultimately, we want to change UK citizens lives and revolutionise the way the country operates digitally as soon as possible, not waste taxpayers’ money on long drawn-out discovery and consultancy projects.”

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