Comment

23.08.17

Transforming services, data and organisations

Source: PSE Aug/Sept 2017

Taking digital government to the next level requires strong leadership from everyone in the sector, argues Daniel Thornton, programme director at the Institute for Government.

Today the four most valuable companies in the world are digital businesses. Five years ago, only one was digital – the rest were oil and investment companies. There have been big changes in the private sector, but the public sector has changed less.

As I argue in my recent report, ‘Making a Success of Digital Government’, the digital businesses have platforms which benefit from three main things:

  • Economies of scale in supply, so the Facebook website and the Google search engine can be used by everyone connected to the internet – more than half the world’s population
  • Economies of scale in demand (also known as the network effect), so that the more people that use a service like Facebook, or review products they buy on Amazon, the more valuable it becomes to other people. Around the platform, there is a swarm of services provided by third parties – the Apple Store, or the programs that run on Microsoft’s Windows. These services connect to the platform using standard connections – Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which protects people’s data, and means that people will use the main platform more
  • The organisations that run the platforms have structured themselves to be open to innovation. For example, recognising that hierarchies stop innovation, Amazon keeps teams small (so-called ‘two pizza teams’ – small enough to be fed with two pizzas). These teams interface with each other using private APIs so services are transparent and transaction costs are lower, and they provide their services outside as well as inside Amazon so that they stay in touch with the market

The public sector can learn from all three of these.

Most progress has been made on the first. GOV.UK has consolidated central government websites in the UK, providing a consistent, easy-to-use interface, so it is now much easier to renew your driving licence or apply for a benefit. NHS Direct provides a reliable and accessible advice service for people concerned about their health. Some local governments have also improved their digital services.

There is less progress in using the network effect. The Government Digital Service has created a digital marketplace, which brings together 3,300 suppliers with a large number of public sector customers. But take-up has been slow outside central government, and even here, 94% of contracts are still with large companies.

As well as providing health advice, NHS Direct allows people to post feedback on health services. One hospital, St George’s in south London, has around 700,000 patients a year, and around 200 comments from patients. With so few people posting reviews, feedback is not going to be useful to the hospital. Like the private sector platforms, NHS Direct should not try to build all the services itself. It should explore making it easy to post comments on health services on platforms that people use frequently.

Least progress has been made in opening public sector organisations to innovation. Digital teams have started to work in new ways – for example by using Agile project methods, and adopting standards that put citizens and users at the centre of their work. But large parts of the public sector work in ways that have not fundamentally changed for years. Hierarchies have remained largely in place, with eight or 10 grades in the Civil Service. There are large numbers of people whose permission is required before a change can be introduced. There has been progress in providing public sector employees with better tools to do their jobs, but communication within and between departments is still patchy – teams often share data with each other by sending spreadsheets attached to email.

Public sector leaders need to educate themselves in the new technology and new ways of working. It should be as unacceptable to say “I don’t understand digital” as it is to say “I don’t understand finance”. Digital cannot be the preserve of geeks – it is a core way of managing public sector organisations, and one where people need to keep learning throughout their lives as the technology changes so fast. Having understood how private sector platforms have been successful, public sector leaders need to start applying the lessons to public services, to save money and provide better services for citizens.

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Sales of social housing increase 10% on last year as Right to Buy takes hold

24/11/2017Sales of social housing increase 10% on last year as Right to Buy takes hold

The government has released figures showing that 13,400 social housing properties were sold last year under Right to Buy, an increase of 10% on 2... more >
Authorities given powers to recoup 80% of temporary accommodation spending in £70m UC reform

24/11/2017Authorities given powers to recoup 80% of temporary accommodation spending in £70m UC reform

Councils will be able to claim back over 80% of the money they spend on temporary accommodation after the government announced new reforms to the... more >
Living standards set to fall for longest period yet , think tank says

24/11/2017Living standards set to fall for longest period yet , think tank says

Britain is heading for the longest period of falling living standards since records began, the Resolution Foundation has warned this week. In it... more >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

City-centric, deeply disappointing and a nightmare – criticisms pile against the Budget

22/11/2017City-centric, deeply disappointing and a nightmare – criticisms pile against the Budget

It’s been a busy day in the PSE office. Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget included a number of interesting announcements, ranging from new devolution deals and housing measures to changes to business rates. This year’s Statement was described well by Lord Bob Kerslake, who said it had been a “mixed bag” for hous... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

interviews

‘The HSCN is the realisation of industry best practice’

30/06/2017‘The HSCN is the realisation of industry best practice’

Keith Smith, public sector business development manager at Virgin Media Business, tells PSE’s Luana Salles that health and social care orga... more >
HSCN: The enabler for a more joined-up public sector

26/06/2017HSCN: The enabler for a more joined-up public sector

Mark Hall, Chief Assurance Officer at Redcentric, discusses NHS Digital’s project, the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) and what b... more >
Maintaining the momentum for further devolution

25/04/2017Maintaining the momentum for further devolution

Ahead of this year’s mayoral elections, Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, tells PSE’s David Stevenson why the argu... more >
New social care funding misses the point

13/04/2017New social care funding misses the point

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee, reflects on the social care funding released in this year’s ... more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

public sector focus

Visual.ONS: How to compete with the big data aggregators

13/11/2017Visual.ONS: How to compete with the big data aggregators

Advertisement feature Christopher Gallag... more >
Social value: A fresh way of approaching investment

10/11/2017Social value: A fresh way of approaching investment

In an age of austerity, council leaders are a... more >