Whitehall's digital transformation leaves much to be desired

Whitehall's efforts at IT 'transformation' have yet to deliver on the promise of digital governance, according to a professor at Brunel University who believes the government's obsession with websites has derailed it from making any real progress.

The professor, Vishanth Weerakkody, said: “Digital technology undoubtedly has huge potential to contribute to the functions of government and public administration, but so far the building of information portals and putting transactions on government websites have not realised the great expectations for it in terms of 'transforming government'."

In his paper “Digital Government: overcoming the systemic failure of transformation,” Weerakkody outlined his belief that real change can only come about via government policy. In his opinion the Internet should not merely be a medium through which citizens can interact with their government.

He believes the way in which digital technology has been applied to government has been highly misguided. He elaborated on his point, saying: “Before the internet no one would have set out to transform government and public administration by redesigning forms and guidance pamphlets. They would do that to make life easier for people, and save time in administration, but that's all: they wouldn't expect to alter anything else."

Over the last 20 years, there have been several phases of attempts to make government digital that have simply been rebranded the programmes that came before them. Only a few of the interactions citizens have with their government have been simplified through the process of allowing some transactions to be completed online as opposed to in person.

Despite Whitehall's failed attempts to digitally transform government, many reformers still see a strong case for trying to overhaul government IT. The legacy systems alone are enough to justify doing so, yet how such a transformation could be done properly remains to be seen.

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