Public Sector Digital Transformation

Interview with Alex Osborne, Sales Director, ServiceNow

As governments around the world strive to adopt digital transformation programmes, as well as the cloud computing, mobile-centric technologies that underpin them, Service Matters questions ServiceNow’s UK public sector Sales Director Alex Osborne on the state of digital transformation in the public sector, drilling down into the wider attitudes and culture now impacting the public sector digital revolution.

Service Matters: Just how far along the digital adoption, progression and migration curve are the government ministries and sub-agents that you speak to?

Alex Osborne: This journey has definitely begun in the UK, with taxation and the DVLA often highlighted as examples of meaningful digital self-service that now exist for the citizen. But this is very much in its infancy, especially when compared to other industries.

The demand for public sector digital transformation is only going to increase as we see citizen expectations being stretched via their everyday experiences on an iPhone or with disruptive organisations like Uber and Amazon. The end result will be an eventual joined-up digital experience across all government agencies, accessed through a single portal, which encompasses all aspects of the citizen’s life, from tax to healthcare to local government services.

Service Matters: Is there any anti-technology feeling in government in the UK today in your view?

Alex Osborne: I don’t believe there is anti-technology feeling, but there is a lack of ability to execute and deliver digital transformation at pace. This is a result of two restraining factors: the lack of digital talent and the fact that we’re still operating on largely legacy system technology. These are not unique to the public sector though, as we are witnessing a war for digital talent across all UK industries, as organisations look to harness the potential that new-world technology enables.

Service Matters: Where should government ministries start on the road to digital transformation? Should they look to identify certain data types, certain application workflows, specific operational processes? Or does the whole thing start with a more ground-level audit of the technologies they already have in place?

Alex Osborne: In order to continue on this journey, there is a need to understand what technology investments have been made and to what end. Traditionally such knowledge has been difficult to understand, as a result of long-term outsourcing relationships. With a documented desire to move away from this, government ministries can gain strategic control and direction, allowing investment decisions to be made on proven cloud computing vendors, who are underpinning their future operating world.

Service Matters: What types and levels of technology skills gap truly exist across government departments now seeking to digitise themselves?

Alex Osborne: From a macro level, the UK government has the challenge of attracting digital talent to an environment that is not perceived to be leading the charge, like a fintech or a start-up utility broker maybe. To my mind, this makes the need for a robust graduate/apprenticeship programme for digital talent absolutely key, along with ensuring their partner eco-system is the right one to support their particular direction of travel.
Service Matters: What, in your view, are the main barriers impeding digital transformation in the public sector today?

Alex Osborne: The scale of the opportunity is huge and the main challenge is where to go next, given the IT debt and complexity of existing legacy systems. Coupled with the unknowns of Brexit looming in the background, public sector organisations may re-prioritise existing playbooks.

Service Matters: How are ministries now working to understand how important IT is in terms of the total operation of government?

Alex Osborne: The organisations that harness technology to improve productivity and create new ways of doing efficient work are well documented in the private sector. There appears to be a desire within the public sector to learn from these organisations, with a number of high-profile private sector individuals taking senior IT leadership roles in prominent government offices, with the Home Office and HMRC being the most recent examples.

Assuming these individuals are mandated to drive change, then we should see a continuation of public sector digital transformation in the UK.

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