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The Key Pillars for Public Sector Digital Evolution

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Our previous feature explored the streamlining of public services across Wales in the widest sense, looking at the digital acceleration ignited by COVID-19 and the triumphs – as well as occasional tribulations – of digital evolution across the highly diverse services that make up the modern public sector.

The Welsh Government’s recently-published Digital Strategy for Wales reinforces this drive for change, setting out a national vision for how all sectors can use digital, data and technology to improve the lives of people in Wales.  Through better service delivery, wider digital inclusion, greater knowledge sharing and win-win collaboration, organisations can unlock the power of data-based decision-making and realise new levels of high-performance –  supporting a more resilient economy and, ultimately, a society that’s built on communities and services that are better connected than ever before. 

“Digital change is about designing services that citizens want and need”

The Digital Strategy for Wales stresses that digital change isn’t just about technology, it’s about a change of culture. It’s about being open. It’s about using data to solve problems. Instead of designing services from the viewpoint of what organisations think a citizen needs, a digital approach involves designing services that meet the needs of the end user.” And that’s exactly the type of transformation we have been supporting when working with our clients across  the public sector – taking a 360° approach that enables far more efficiency and empowers more stakeholder groups too.    

Such a change obviously has a broad impact – but ultimately, the success of any digital strategy or digital transformation is founded upon three key areas: People, Processes and Technology. So let’s look at each area in turn, drawing on our own experiences to highlight the fundamentals of successful digital change. 

“The Power of People”

The last 20 years of managing successful digital transformation projects has taught us many things – and perhaps the biggest truth is that change cannot be successfully achieved without the right mindset and culture in place among the people within an organisation. To achieve what Lee Waters at the Welsh Government notes as “an agile and responsive mindset being the norm and not the exception”, many enterprises need to go through a programme of cultural change – including looking at the style and profile of leadership, and asking honest questions about whether the organisation has a deeply-embedded understanding of user-centred design. 

“Change is not sustainable without the right mindset and culture”

There is a post-pandemic openness about what can be achieved and, given the universal nature of the digital change now taking place, tremendous initiatives such as CDPS digital squads are helping demystify ideas and processes that may previously have been viewed as unknown and therefore as something to be feared. Indeed, our own work with Elin Lloyd Jones of Cardiff University shows just how positive and seamless cultural change can be – and how it brings immediate and ongoing benefits for all, creating measurable and sustainable success. 

“Culture is how things get done. Process is the way it works.” 

‘Process’ embeds and drives this sustainable success – with a core focus on removing any silos of information. When working with our clients to evolve their current approach and strategy, it’s important to answer a few key questions. For example, what data do they currently hold, and how accessible is it? How interoperable are the systems we are working with? Do the stakeholders involved have clearly-defined and lean ways of working? Are we burdened with old systems and contracts – and if so what can be done about that? 

And what about inclusion? This is an increasingly urgent question as public service provision shifts to digital channels, and it is vital that we create a digital agenda that builds inclusion and accessibility in as a baseline requirement – including via infrastructure that will upskill and ensure access for those communities who are already marginalised, and risk becoming even more so if we don’t firmly grasp this fundamental challenge.  

“There’s much to be done – and much to already applaud”

There is much to be done – but much to already applaud. We helped healthcare providers transform their services during the early stages of the pandemic, and were struck by just how quickly digital services could be rolled out when necessary. Underlining this, the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS), which played a key role in standardising and rolling out digital transformation during the COVID crisis, is now being renamed as Digital Health and Care Wales, a reflection of the importance of digital and data in modern health and care, and of the development of digital services as being key to delivering services fit for the future.     

“Technology as a genuine enabler”

‘Technology’ is an enabler of this new world and it’s true that many organisations in the public sector are working with outdated systems, some of which are no longer fit for purpose – stifling innovation and in some cases even harming current transformation efforts by not being able to support data sharing or integration (issues compounded by the process challenges highlighted earlier).

“A hybrid solution may offer the greatest value”

The first step must be to bring these systems up to date, whether by building something bespoke, or by harnessing best-of-breed solutions that have been proven elsewhere. There are pros and cons to each of these options – the flexibility of ‘bespoke’ does come with added cost/time considerations, for example – and a hybrid approach may offer the greatest value, with off-the-shelf and existing solutions serving as an accelerator to provide core functionality quickly; and bespoke elements delivering features and functionality to support specific processes and requirements.

“With a foundation in place, public services can realise their full potential” 

With a suitable foundation in place, built on the three pillars of people, process and technology, public sector organisations can begin to fully realise their potential – adding value to users/citizens, responding to changing behaviours (through innovations such as mobile and point-of-service touchpoints), and optimising the emerging opportunities in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. A vision for the future that’s fast becoming a reality, for public services right across Wales.