Tim Crofts

By Tim Crofts, VP for Strategy & Business Development at Leidos UK

Arguably, the UK Government has made greater strides in digital transformation in the past seven months than in the previous seven years.

Coronavirus forced its hand in moving essential services online and creating new digital platforms for pandemic-related initiatives. For example, HMRC successfully launched a new platform for the furlough wages scheme in a matter of weeks, a project which it admits would have taken more than a year to design and deliver under normal circumstances.

The success of such projects has created a new appetite to accelerate the wider transformation of public services. The creation of digitally-led services tailored to today’s society and adaptable to how we live in the future.

The government has admirable ambitions to deliver seamless, personalised public services, harnessing the power of “big data” in the way that banks, supermarkets and travel companies have done for more than a decade.

To enable successful digital transformation, not only must the government overcome fragmented legacy systems and change legacy processes, it must change the narrative on its handling of data.

There is a deep-rooted mistrust of the government’s stewardship of public data, despite a relatively good track record. Many individuals who not only organise their whole lives from their phones and are willing to share very personal data with travel companies or social platforms that have been guilty of security or ethical data breaches in the past, are reluctant to share that same data with government organisations.

So what can the government do to overcome this mistrust, break down silos and secure greater permission to leverage citizen data.

Firstly, there has to be an emphasis on education. Much of the mistrust comes down to a simple lack of understanding. The government has been remiss at clear, transparent communication on how and why data is being used. There has to be an active dialogue with the public to fully understand those concerns, address them and properly sell the benefits of data sharing to the individual and wider society. Building a trusted relationship can transform public perception on this issue.

Secondly, a more robust and reliable regulatory framework for all public and private sector technology companies and data handlers that goes far beyond the Digital Ethics Framework is required. We can’t pretend that data breaches are not going to happen in future, but we can provide support to help organisations work safely and sustainably, keep breaches to a minimum and assure the public that the government is working hard to the right thing on data security.

Finally, the government must put people’s needs first when designing new digitally-led public services, putting collaboration, engagement and communication at the heat of every programme. This citizen-led approach will be key to delivering services that truly meet the needs of society.

By taking data from other government sources and citizen data from technology and social platforms, there is huge potential to create a rich data environment, supporting informed decision and policy making.

The government is in a strong position to build on the digital momentum created by Covid-19 to drive improvements and efficiencies in public services. By focusing on education, regulation and collaboration, there is an exciting opportunity to make genuine improvements to society for generations to come.