Scott Wilson, Director of Service, eFax, explores how government digital transformation will be accelerated even faster, by embracing new digital ways of working
Back in 2017, UK Cabinet Office minister, Ben Gummer’s definition of transformation he said, was “to change – and do so, at pace and at scale. This is the meaning of transformation.” Gummer’s words served as the foreword to the Government Transformation Strategy, published in February 2017. “It is, in essence, a change of working, of culture and of disposition – changes that are made possible by digital technology. That technology is not changing itself; it enables the change that is so transformative,” outlined the then minister.
Government Digital Service
The strategy, created by the Government Digital Service, is a three-year plan for a root-and-branch reform of government across five areas: digital services; skills and culture; tools and processes; use of data; and shared components and platforms. Gummer’s speech emphasised reform was necessary for both better public services and to allow civil servants to do their jobs effectively. This included doing away with “what can be generously called suboptimal tech”.
Fast forward to 2020 and where are we today? ‘Digital transformation’ is a phrase often used in recent years. Companies constantly advocate the importance of digital transformation, regularly referring to technologies such as AI, blockchain, and big data to make their case. They are not wrong; each of these represent huge potential for any organisation seeking to improve and unlock innovative and new ways of doing business, and government aspirations are no different. Whether you are a government department, or a leading global enterprise, successful digital transformation still depends on the seamless integration of offline and online capabilities so that services can be provided efficiently and in the best possible way to benefit both customers and employees in the private sector, or citizens and civil servants in the public sector.
The global COVID-19 crisis has led to an unprecedented amount of change over the past couple of months, which has seen many organisations recognising the need to accelerate their digital transformation journey. Digital strategies have become even more essential tools in commercial and business models – and of course for our essential public services too.
Back when the current crisis started in March, shelves were empty. A lack of toilet paper, cleaning supplies and the other household products we all take for granted, combined with headlines about food supply shortages, left citizens concerned, and at times, stockpiling. The rush to obtain medical supplies as global healthcare services reused and repurposed equipment and essential workers lacked the protective equipment while performing the vital services to keep everyone else safe.
Demand, we have seen all too often in various guises throughout the lockdown, has created increased costs throughout essential services and the supply chain, which itself has proved too complex in getting vital kit and supplies transported to the services which need it the most. Consumer demand drives the need for improved speed, quality and service, but risk in the supply chain creates pressure, and volatility – this extends to the essential services which keep us safe and the wheels of government turning.
Many organisations including government and beyond have a strong interest in digital transformation but have often been held back by a lack of funding, strategy or governance. In 2018, support for the Axe the Fax campaign surged when health secretary Matt Hancock mandated the NHS from buying more fax machines and ordered a complete phase-out of the technology by April 2020. Recent reports have shown that many trusts missed this deadline due to lack of progress.
Today, coming out of lockdown, we have the opportunity now, to challenge the things that have held us back in the past. And we’re hearing that in every sector, private and public, from our government contacts, not just here in the UK, but across multiple geographies. The opportunity to invest in accelerated digital transformation is right now.
Whilst for most of us, it’s the usual office interactions now taking place at home over video which have been adopted as the new norm for communicating with colleagues, which have transformed lives, the lockdown has also forced government departments and services to invest in new digital experiences, interactions, innovations, or new services – and it’s key that this transformation continues.
Key services have accelerated how they view their digital maturity as a result of the lockdown and have been asking the following questions:
Where are we on our journey to cloud? How advanced is our ‘digital workplace’? Do we have a concrete data strategy? What is our IT security capability?
Likewise, the way we share, collaborate on and review documents has also been improved by technology, is linked to these key questions above, and is an important part of the digital maturity debate. Fax remains a vital tool for sharing important documents across the essential services, due to the nature of sending files improving secure and legal authenticity. However, the vast majority of workers do not have fax machines at home. They are forced to seek out alternative means to share documents and data without risk. Cloud faxing has stepped in to remove the need for dated fax machines and allow employees to fax from anywhere, increasing essential workforces’ agility.
Digital faxing is also much safer than its physical counterpart, as fax files are sent directly to the email inbox and sophisticated data encryption is used to increase security and confidentiality. It also saves money, at a time when the economy has taken a hit and reducing costs is vital.
The accelerated digital transformation we have witnessed in the last few months will continue to benefit public sector workers as restrictions on the workplace and subsequent pressure on supply chains begins to ease. Technology that was adopted across the public sector during lockdown to solve the problem of essential teams being away from each other and transition away from legacy systems should not be dropped as workers return.
The lockdown has enabled both the private and public sectors to recognise and get to grips with the need for digital transformation and combine the operational changes needed with digital applications even if prior to the crisis began, they may have previously lacked the required knowledge, expertise, and focus to successfully achieve a change of this magnitude. Accelerated transformation will be key to the strengthening of government services to stand the test of time.