Better digital services needed for UK government to effect real change

The government might not have been expecting the EU Referendum result, but a vote to leave brings with it opportunities to create the most forward-thinking, data-driven government in the world.

As the UK seeks to reshape and redefine its economic arrangements, build new trading agreements and demonstrate to the world that it remains open for business, it needs data more than ever.

There are two key reasons for this. First, the government still has a cost-saving agenda. It needs to deliver on transformation projects if it is to realise efficiencies at scale. Second, data is key to helping government to reshape and redefine its services in the wake of Brexit. The temptation with digital projects is that you end up reinventing existing services, rather than redesigning them. Ultimately, this stunts their long-term impact.

So in order to create a substantial shift in making data-driven government a reality, government bodies need to create demonstrably superior digital services that citizens or customers actually want to use and are willing to engage with.

What will this achieve?

This will assist in meeting the demands of both digitally savvy and technologically challenged customers and citizens with easy-to-use services. It will also reduce the costs and risks of developing and launching new services. And lastly, it will develop an efficient, streamlined IT estate that continues to meet the demands of customers and service providers as they change over time.

Digging a bit deeper and exploring why the failure of integrated and ingrained digital transformation prevails, it’s clear behind the shiny and impressive ‘digital’ front window, the manual processes remain the same. And the dream of joined-up services remain largely unfulfilled. This is mostly because, despite its ambitions, government still runs on legacy technology.

For instance, many government departments have developed workarounds for digital transformation processes. Yet, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the cracks can no longer be papered over. Particularly as the amount of information available to and produced by a single government department or business unit is growing exponentially from multiple sources.

Digitising paper records

Traditional paper-based records are being transformed into electronic files. DVLA’s replacement of in-vehicle road tax discs with electronic records as part of its efforts to reduce paper-based transactions relating to vehicle records is a case in point. Efforts by the National Archives to digitise the statute book can be seen in the same light.

New sources of data

New technologies and new ways of processing information are adding to the amount of data being generated. For instance, our customer the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) proposed a root and branch reform of the legal system – from the way police gather digital evidence, to the instigation of virtual courtroom sessions for certain crimes. It will produce a level of data the MoJ has not had to deal with before.

Changing types of data

The vast majority of new data being generated is likely to be unstructured - in contrast to the traditional highly structured, machine-readable formats. This includes information derived from blog posts, social media feeds, audio and video - such as the petabytes of audio and video data gathered by body cameras worn by Metropolitan Police officers to be used as part of the evidence-gathering process.

Future growth

Data volumes are set to expand further as the Internet of Things (IoT) extends into more and more areas. By 2020, more than 50 billion smart devices will be connected to the IoT, continuously streaming data for real-time analysis. Currently, only 0.5 per cent of the world’s data is analysed, suggesting that the IoT’s analytics capabilities alone will account for a huge increase in demand for storage and processing capacity.

Not only is there a lot more data available, but the way people access it is changing, placing new demands on the infrastructure. Mobile technologies have changed the expectations of service users who are able to access business and government services outside the traditional parameters of office hours and location. This trend will only proliferate as the UK government gears up for and negotiates leaving the EU. Meeting this demand requires service providers to be available 24/7, and a consistent level of throughput, speed, security, and reliability.

The widespread use of mobile technologies has changed the format that services need to be delivered through an appropriately designed mobile front end. As the mobile experience decouples itself from the smartphone towards a collection of connected devices, this challenge is only set to become more complex. Not least because it also demands a streamlined back-office set up that can respond to both predictable and unpredictable peaks and troughs in demand.

Breaking down back-office silos is a critical factor in enabling user-focused mobile access. In the transition to flexible online services, facilitated by single sign-on, demand is growing for common technology platforms that can eliminate the repeated incidences of applications, security procedures, identity requirements, document management systems among others. And at the heart of these platforms? Yup, you guessed it: Data.

Aingaran Pillai, CEO & Founder, Zaizi

Image Credit: Pres Panayotov / Shutterstock