What can government services and sectors learn from each other?

Business people talking in an office room over a laptop with data
© Pressmaster

Government services, including the private and public sectors, can adapt to digitalisation together when embracing data sharing and encouraging innovation

The past few years have catalysed the fastest acceleration of digitalisation in government services, spanning a wide range of different organisations across all sectors. With this acceleration has come a major shift in customer expectations – gone are the days of people accepting clunky webpages or long wait times.

People are used to the slick user experiences they have long found on best-in-class e-commerce websites and come to expect that speed and efficiency from all services – including government services.

Slower digitalisation and secure data sharing

Historically, public services have had a reputation for being slow to digitalise – often slower than their private sector counterparts. Why?

The public sector is immensely complicated, with hundreds of different councils, blue light organisations, government departments and more all holding vast quantities of highly sensitive user data – from identity documentation like name, address, and date of birth to medical records, disabilities, and benefits claims.

Accessing this data stored on a mix of legacy and modern IT systems is, in itself, a huge challenge. Especially when the data that could support a slick user experience is spread across different public sector organisations. Yes, private businesses hold sensitive personal information about customers too, but it’s often far less sensitive and the starting point is easier because at least all the data is within a single organisation.

Users won’t give much thought to these complexities though. Most see Government as a single entity and expect a consistent and joined-up experience across all the services they access. Much like when shopping with Amazon, you don’t expect inconsistencies when buying from different Amazon sellers.

The private sector sandbox

The private sector provides approaches to innovation that can be referenced for public sector projects. With larger research and development budgets, often less sensitive data, and less pressure from politics or policy, the private sector has greater freedom to innovate without the risk of wasting taxpayer money.

Government Digital Service (GDS) has inspired a wave of digital transformation through the Service Standards which have evolved to be invaluable for the public sector over the past few years. However, the Government recognise the value of encouraging innovation, with:

1) Organisations such as Innovate UK providing funding and support

2) Government departments seeking to design policy in a way that enables and encourages industry innovation

Learning from each other

There is a strong case for the public and private sectors to learn from each other and deliver an experience that works better for citizens. One might consider there to be a clear distinction between private sector services such as online banking and government services such as HMRC’s self-assessment for income tax.

But if we look closer, there are connections. Online banking must be compliant with government regulations. And sometimes, government services stimulate industry innovation; HMRC’s self-assessment is a good example, where users have the option of purchasing commercial software to build upon the standard service.

So there is value in industry understanding the future direction of legislation and policy. And equally, there is value in understanding the future direction of the industry.

Business Executives meeting with data of sales performance at a modern outdoor workplace.
© Chalirmpoj Pimpisarn

It is noticeable that, at times, the public sector follows the private sector and other times vice versa – and all of this is because there are fewer differences than you might think about how large-scale programmes operate in the organisations and the use of the best practice.

Take continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines as an example – a software engineering principle where development and operation activities are woven together and automated to streamline the software delivery process and often improve user experience. For large organisations, CI/CD has become an essential building block of workflow – both for the private sector and increasingly in Government services.

A bright future for digital government

The future is looking promising for digital public services. We’ve seen almost a decade of improvements driven by the government’s Service Standard that have delivered straightforward and consistent services.

Equally, the government recognises there is more work to do in their recently published Roadmap for Digital and Data. The ambition is for further digital transformation to make accessing public services quicker and simpler, and deliver substantial efficiency savings of over £1 billion by eliminating the unnecessary costs of paper-based services and processes.

Clearly, there is a case for the public and private sectors to learn from each other and for both parties to benefit. But perhaps the overall winner here is the end user, who gets a better experience across all services they interact with.


This piece was written and provided by Ross Nichol, UK Director at Valtech.


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