When people think of digital, many consider designing new services as projects with defined start and end dates, but it's time to shift from that mentality. Digital services need to be continuously improved to respond to customer needs and thought of as ‘products’ rather than ‘projects’.
The private sector has long realised this, as a seamless customer journey has a direct impact on their profit margins. But now it’s time for the public sector to catch up. Customers don’t need a luxury service, but they do need one that is good enough, well designed and continuously improved around their needs.
The last 18 months has seen many of us turning to products like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. We now have a very different product to 18 months ago – but it has been small, constant changes rather than big upgrades. Elements such as adding emojis to react, moving the location of the chat function, translation features and so on. There is a service design team there, constantly seeking feedback from the user and evolving products to meet user needs.
The buzz word is ‘evergreen’, so that we build it and continuously improve it by building features, building scope, do maintenance as part of the day job, removing the need for expensive and risky upgrade projects.
This means talking and listening to users rather than presuming that you know what they want. We have seen money wasted and un-workable services created because the user wasn’t engaged, and the service wasn’t continuously tested throughout the development of a product. This is even more critical when you think about the diverse user base for our public services.
When I first started working on public sector digital transformation back in 2013, Westminster government was working to catch up with the private sector in designing services around user need, and Welsh public services were barely on the starting grid. This has slowly started to change. It’s now time to be offering the people of Wales the public services they deserve.
Many services have moved online since the start of the pandemic, and what has been created is a good starting point, meeting a need at the time. But we now need to look again and put ourselves in the user’s shoes. How easy is it to access services? How are we avoiding creating a digital divide? Are we meeting the needs of users and are we thinking about continuous development of products rather than the delivery of projects?
The launch of the Digital Strategy for Wales and the Welsh Government’s commitment to improving digital services by establishing The Centre for Digital Public Services is a great start, but it is just a start.
There’s a lot of work to be done changing perceptions of what a digital service should look like and up-skilling staff to deliver these. We need digital leaders and digital teams to ensure what is being developed is based on user need and to think about the end-to-end customer journey. Only then will we start seeing services that work.
Let's develop our services around what users really need and create real change, rather than invest in piece meal solutions looking for a problem that then masquerade as public sector innovation.
Perago is a company based in Swansea that offers consultation, training and delivery of digital services.