What made the UK digital government transformation journey a successful story?

Published on May 16, 2021

For some time now, the public and private sectors have been working to enhance their products and services. It has been a challenging battle for many CTOs to ensure they can deliver a digital transformation program that adds real value to both the business and its clients.

The UK government has achieved just that because it has genuinely transformed many key areas through its approach to digitalization over the last few years. It is not an overstatement to say that, today, the UK Government has passed many of its private-sector counterparts in the digital transformation race.

So, what can we learn from the UK government’s approach?

Setting its service standards.

In 2011, Government Digital Service (GDS) was tasked to transform online services in the UK and drive the Government’s Digital by Default strategy. Soon after its establishment, GDS created an industry set of Service Standards that would seek to standardize all government departments’ approaches to digital to ensure a level of consistency across different agencies.

In the beginning, these new standards and techniques were challenging for government agencies to follow. However, now, these standards can be thanked for much of the digital transformation progress made. They inspired each agency to revise its approach to digital. They also started a new wave of thinking about how the public sector can ensure a level of service that citizens expect and want. 

For instance, HMRC (Her Majesty Revenue & Customs) was once one of the UK’s most prominent publishers due to the massive amount of paper that it would use to contact individuals. Nowadays, by working within the Service Standards framework, it provides some of the best and most technologically advanced, paperless public services.

True collaboration

Also, the key to the UK government’s rapid pace of digital transformation has been the shift in how it works with external organizations. Once it was the case that the UK government would select suppliers and external partners based on long-standing relationships and, usually, it would not look beyond the most prominent players in each field. 

That approach has been changed now. The departments only choose external partners prepared to build their capabilities by passing on expertise and ones that they can work with existing teams.

By adopting this approach, the UK government has successfully upskilled its existing tech teams and opened itself to a whole new wave of more advanced, agile, and like-minded external consultancies. These consultancies can help to deliver projects with significant cost advantage and, in most cases, quicker.

Leveling the playing field

The UK government has made a great pace in certain areas. HMRC, DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), and NHS BSA (The National Health Service Business Services Authority) are excellent case studies for how the UK government has advanced its digital services. But, it’s not to be assumed that every department has the same level of success.

In the UK government, some departments have seen the impact of the GDS’s changes quicker than others. Those departments with less budget or that don’t have the same demand to expand into digital have a long way to travel in their digital transformation journey and need support from external partners with the right approach and expertise to get them there.

Over the last few years, the UK government has adopted digital transformation at a rate that has meant it has surpassed expectations in embracing digital. It has become more effective while also enhancing its culture and attracting some of the best talents. There are many lessons that other countries can adopt from the UK government. But it’s important to remember that there is still work to be done as the digital race is never truly over. There will always be a better technology or approach to implementing. That is what makes it such an exciting area to work in!


About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022