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The state of digital government - remembering the world has much to learn from the UK

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 20, 2016
Two studies from Gartner and Forrester indicate differences between ambition and reality in digital government, but there's much to learn from the UK's progress to date.

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Tomorrow (Tuesday) diginomica is out in force at the Think Cloud for Digital Government conference in London - more from that later this week. As we gear up for a day of debate and discussion around digital government, a couple of studies caught my eye that made for interesting background reading.

First up, courtesy of its 2016 CIO Agenda study, comes the conclusion from Gartner that while digital transformation is having a major impact on private sector organizations worldwide, its presence in government remains at an embryonic lebel of development.

This isn’t for want of grand statements of intent by public sector executives and officials around the globe. According to Gartner’s study, leveraging digital tech to transform service models is right up there at the top of the ‘to do’ list, with analytics, infrastructure and cloud computing cited as the main priorities.

(While data center consolidation was all the rage for a while and a shift to Public Cloud First is mandated in the US and UK central governments, infrastructure and data center spending remain high,particularly in the US where it’s the top investment priority. Giving up on tin is hard to do!)

Government CIOs estimate that 44% of business processes are now undergoing digital change, with 62% set to be impacted within two years and 80% within five years.

OK, so far, so good. Why’s it not happening as fast as it might?

Shortage of skilled workers is one reason - remember, we gave them away the big outsourcing companies as deliberate policy for so many years, then found ourselves surprised that nobody knows where the on/off switch is or what that big red button over there does. 

Then there’s the rigid organizational structures and working practices in government circles. The ‘we don’t do things like that around here’, risk-averse culture where the political will meets the administrative won’t holds back innovation proceeding at private sector pace.

This is a problem, says Rick Howard, research vice president at Gartner, with risk-aversion leading inevitably to greater risk over time:

With this much-anticipated business process impact on the horizon, there is a high risk to CIOs of not being able to keep up with IT innovations. This risk will compound over the next five years if IT budget pressures increase and the spread of business unit level IT, or shadow IT, is not strategically coordinated and managed.


Meanwhile a separate study from Forrester Research, - The Public Is Still Skeptical Of Federal Digital Customer Experience -  user satisfaction with digitally-delivered government services is increasing very slow, but remains relatively low. 

According to a survey of 1400 US adults who use the internet at least once per week, the number of users who would describe government digital experiences as ‘Exactly what a government website should be’ was up from 51%  in 2014 to 53% in 2015.

Meanwhile 72% said they were satisfied with in-person experiences, indicating that the ‘human touch’ is still preferred. That means face-to-face it seems as telephone engagement ranks the lowest of all digital or non-digital engagement channels.

But the really grim conclusion from the Forrester study is that while government says it wants to do more business with citizens digitally, the citizens themselves seem to have other ideas, with less than half (39%) of respondents saying that government should be spending more on digital service delivery. That’s down 2.% year-on-year. 

And while having a single-sign for digital services is a priority for government tech teams, only 40% of citizens see this as a priority. Presumably they prefer to juggle with lots of passwords, but whatever the case, it's not seen as an urgent need. 

Encouragingly there is a clear exception to this negativity in the form of familiar social media platforms, which users name as preferable for interacting with government agencies. Facebook engagement earned a 76% satisfaction rate, while Twitter and Instagram scored 77% and 80% respectively.

My take

High-level food for thought as a backdrop to tomorrow’s Think Cloud event.

One of the reasons that diginomica covers the UK public sector so closely is that progress here is having such a positive influence and setting so many leadership directions around the world.

In the US, the US Digital Service and the 18f digital delivery agency owe much to the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) - and both have paid tribute to the fact - while GDS alumni, such as Paul Shetler in Australia, have taken learnings and experiences to other national governments.

Meanwhile the likes of Canada and India have ‘lifted and shifted’ the G-Cloud cloud computing framework to excellent effect, while down under, New Zealand's GOVT.NZ is GOV.UK with a new open sourced home.  

It’s such a part of the public sector firmament now that it’s important to remember how pioneering the G-Cloud framework was when it was launched and with what scepticism - and disapproval - it was met with by the centralists in Brussels, hellbent on a top-down pan-European cloud strategy with the European Commission at the heart of it, wrapping it up bundles of red tape.

UK public sector IT is (very) far from perfect. But it’s taken a world-class leadership position in so many respects. That’s what we’ll be talking about at Think Cloud for Digital Government this week. Keep an eye out for event coverage over the coming days. Lots to be learned and shared - in the UK, across Europe, over The Pond and all around the globe.

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