Tom Wright, head of digital and engagement at NDL Software reveals key considerations for successful end-to-end digital transformation in the UK public sector
While digital transformation remains high on the agenda for organisations across the public sector, many have experienced difficulties in its implementation.
Despite the technology for automation, managing workflows and data integration being readily available, organisations have not always approached the issue in the right way, and often achieved only piecemeal change.
Experience suggests they have sometimes neglected key factors in ensuring that a transformation runs end-to-end, and they need to think through a series of issues to fulfil the ambition.
When it comes to choosing technology, the main aim is to develop an effective digital workflow, from a service user's first interaction, to internal monitoring and reporting.
Automation is an important factor, through which software bots are taking on the more routine, rules driven tasks and providing big dividends in terms of productivity and reliability. Low code unlocks new possibilities, allowing teams to create complex automations and workflows through simplified templates – without the need for extensive coding experience.
APIs when appropriate
There is another option in the use of application programme interfaces to facilitate the smooth transfer of selected datasets from one system to another in support of a workflow. This comes with the problem that many legacy systems were not designed for APIs and some suppliers demand heavy price tags to make them available. There are instances in which they are not a realistic element for the foreseeable future and it is better to think in terms of ‘APIs when appropriate’.
It is also necessary to ensure that the various systems in a process are correctly integrated to ensure data flows effectively without human intervention. Integration with existing systems can be very complex - organisations need a clear view of requirements before committing to migrations or transformations.
This can all be supported by a platform such as NDL Evolve, which comprises four no code/low code products, built on the company’s Hub orchestration technology - supporting the digitalisation, automation and integration of data driven processes.
It is important to remain technology agnostic, as it is financially unrealistic to procure new technology for every stage of a transformation, and any organisation needs to make the most of applications and platforms that can still perform their part of a process effectively. It contributes to the effort to avoid vendor lock-in, becoming over-dependent on the technology from one supplier with little scope to change.
There is also a need for serious thinking about non-technology factors. It is important to know exactly what data is needed within a process. In some cases, challenges arise where key data is missing or of poor quality, and one of the priorities is to examine this carefully and ensure that the automated systems collect everything needed.
Behaviour and culture
Behavioural change and cultural issues are important, and transformation leaders should be ready to use the experience of teams involved in early initiatives to champion the use of technology, highlighting its benefits and making the case for wider use.
Lines of authority and the allocation of budgets can sometimes create problems. While this is a persistent problem it can be overcome when an IT team or one organisation is clearly identified as taking the lead, with an agreement that it has an appropriate budget or that others contribute when it makes the case for an investment.
Another priority is to focus on processes. Some organisations have learned by experience that trying to improve a weak process simply by digitising and automating its various tasks will not provide any real benefits and could make the situation worse.
To avoid this, there should be an examination of the end-to-end process from service user request through to service delivery – identifying where it could be improved by mobile or forms interfaces, automation of data and workflows and a readiness to redesign it if necessary.
Repeat and improve
Beneath all this is the need to recognise that the features and priorities in a digital transformation will always be subject to change as technologies and public needs evolve. It needs to be approached as an evolution, involving series of small changes. This makes it necessary to focus on the tasks within one process, transform them one at a time, ensure they work smoothly together, then go on to the next – ‘repeat and improve’.
This comes with thinking about what ‘end to end’ means, looking at a how a process works within the broader context of working for the public good. Again, this will be subject to change and will require a fresh look at processes and their digital elements.
Continuous change imposes new demands on public sector organisations, but they can make technology choices and develop capabilities that will equip them to deal with these over the long term.
A more detailed examination of these issues is available in the white paper, End-to-end digital transformation for better public services, produced by UKAuthority in association with NDL software