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The UK government champions tech, but what can it learn from it?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

The UK’s pre-Christmas election is over, and with it we have a Parliament filled with fresh faces. There are 140 first time MPs in the new Parliament. And, whatever your political leanings, we can all be sure of one positive result - this is the most diverse Parliament ever elected in terms of gender, race and sexuality.

Aside from this sea change, another result of the election is clear: the Conservative Party has a decisive majority. With clear commitments to ending the Brexit withdrawal process and an ambition of finalising a trade deal rapidly, the government will be eager to turn its attention beyond Europe. As we enter into a new decade, wherever the government moves its attention to, it will increasingly find technology is at the centre of the discussion.

The tech sector itself takes pride of place in the UK’s economy. Britain outpaces every other European nation in terms of tech investment and punches significantly above its weight in terms of creating unicorns (businesses valued at over $1bn), trailing only the giants of the U.S. and China. Successive governments have championed the value this sector brings to the economy, the workforce, and the nation. We can be confident that the new government will continue this trend.

Within its manifesto specifically, the Conservative Party has several policies outlined in relation to nurturing the technology sector. These include plans to continue supporting entrepreneurs through the Seed Enterprise Investment schemes, a review of the Entrepreneur’s Relief policy and changes to the R&D tax credit scheme to include data and cloud subscription services to better reflect the realities of modern business.

However, beyond specific policies themselves, the new government will need to engage with technology on an internal level like never before, and there are a number of lessons it can learn from tech businesses.

Following in the footsteps of UK tech success

Part of the UK tech sector’s runaway success has been its willingness to challenge traditional industries, react rapidly to changing customer needs and experiment with more efficient ways of working. This is best exemplified by the UK’s Fintech sector, which receives the world’s highest investment, and has revolutionised the way banking operates.

Challenger banks such as Monzo and Starling took an experience-first approach to banking, building apps that cut the busy-work out of finance. Focusing on simplifying the experience of everyday tasks - whether budgeting for bills or splitting a round of drinks with friends - led to phenomenal user growth and fundamental changes in the way we expect banking to work.

Achieving this was no mean feat and required a fundamental change in the way the workplace functions. Monzo, for example, made agility central to its operation from the start. With millions of customers, the bank relies on channel-based communication, rather than email, to connect key teams and coordinate its response to incidents such as outages.

Channels are transparent and designed from the bottom-up to offer a rich permanent, searchable record of knowledge, organisations can coordinate and align more easily. While scaling at pace can mean hitting snags along the way, Monzo’s use of channels has provided it with the agility to react in real-time and maintain its world-class customer service.

Learning the right lessons on organisational alignment

This new UK government would do well to learn from some of these tech sector success stories. Because, in a lot of ways, they face similar challenges.

First, although Parliament sits in Westminster, much like modern businesses, MPs, their teams and the civil servants of various government departments are geographically dispersed and frequently on the move. They require communication which can keep them in the loop and get them up to speed quickly without being overwhelming. For example, with channel communications, teams can respond to anything - projects, teams, planning, constituent issues - and integrate with other software such as calendars.

Second, as the Fintechs must meet the concerns of customers, so MPs have a responsibility to respond to the diverse needs of constituents. Organising these concerns and keeping track of constituent challenges which might evolve over a series of weeks, months or even years requires digital tools which can log, organise and intuitively search records. Unlike email, Slack provides a permanent and searchable record of knowledge, allowing everyone on the team to see what takes place, in one place, and what needs to be actioned in real-time.

Third, government, like business, includes large, complex and ever changing teams of people. As changes take place, whether at the level of MPs or civil servants, a central log of ongoing issues will reduce the teething problems related to transition periods, and ultimately mean fewer balls being dropped. For example, the Capgemini Applied Innovation Exchange created a custom Slack bot named Cleo, to tailor the onboarding experience to each employee’s needs. Based on the responses to a series of simple questions, Cleo sets new users up with the tools and channels relevant to their respective role, to ensure their onboarding is as seamless as transparent as possible

Fourth, as many businesses have started taking an interdepartmental approach to problem solving, the roles of MPs are complex and ever-shifting. One day may be spent working with local charities, another sitting on a committee discussing artificial intelligence. Each can require a different set of documents, databases, or even software. As such, the tools used by the government should be able to integrate with and adapt to the vast range of different inputs that comes with the diverse nature of working in government. Slack integrates with the thousands of internally and externally developed tools used by enterprises, from the likes of expense management apps to Google Documents, giving workers more flexibility and scalability.

And finally, if any sector can match global business for the pace at which it moves, it’s global politics. Communication tools like email, which provide a partial, fragmented view of information within an organisation will no longer cut it as government is expected to react more rapidly than ever before to shifting requirements both on a constituent, national and international level. The Ministry of Justice and Home Office are two examples of government organisations embracing the future of work, currently using Slack as a better way for their teams to work together.

The advantages of a move toward the ways of working which the UK’s tech sector and rising stars like Monzo exemplify is so great that a wider shift to them is inevitable. We’re entering a new era for the UK’s government for a number of reasons and the nation will be watching closely for what comes next. If it learns the lessons from the tech sector - which has embraced the power of new tools to drive organisational alignment and has subsequently skyrocketed - over the past four years of (perhaps unavoidable) Parliamentary wheel-spinning, this government will be able to get a lot more done than just Brexit.

Stuart Templeton, Head of UK, Slack