“How are they going to provide digital services in the public sector when they can’t pick up my containers?” That was the question faced in early 2017 by Martyn Wallace, the newly appointed Chief Digital Officer of the Scottish Local Government Digital Office.
Initially a project set up for three years to help Scottish councils digitally transform, the project is in its seventh year and shows no signs of slowing down. “It’s endless,” admits Wallace. “Always one more mountain to climb.”
But back to the containers. “Do you think that’s what local government is? Do we only collect your containers? he answered. Wallace describes the real scope: 5.5 million clients, the daily education of 700,000 children, social exclusion, health care delivery, telecare, births, deaths and marriages, and containers. He admits that, in the public eye, it is sometimes a thankless task. “We are an easy target for the press,” he says. Not just the press, apparently. Jacob Rees-Mogg toured the civil service departments, leaving a cheery “while you were out” note on the desks of the hybrid workers.
Given that one of the positives of the pandemic has been a widespread shift to hybrid working, this seems like a step backwards. “We’ve had a lot more interaction with the Highlands and Islands and Borders because I can use Teams to talk to anyone across Scotland,” insists Wallace. “Why would the staff come to Edinburgh when they are as far away as Stonehaven, Jedburgh and Glasgow?”
Wallace admits that the hybrid job is an incentive to stay in the public sector, as is the sense of purpose of the job. But he admits there are aspects of the role that could be improved. “Allow me to fail. In private sector organizations, the culture is to fail fast but learn from it,” he suggests. But transferring the mindset from the private sector to the public sector is not that simple. “The challenge is that we have less money and higher expectations and scrutiny and we take care of the entire population. Being able to fail and learn – instead of being crucified – that the culture of risk has to move”, insists Wallace.
Improving the digital experience
It is a challenge that they must meet. in the last Digital trends 2022: public sector in the spotlight According to an Adobe report, only 14% of respondents said their digital experience exceeded customer expectations, and more than a third (37%) admitted they were falling behind.
Neil Bacon is a Senior Digital Strategist at Adobe. He says: “We see two main barriers to technology investment in the public sector. Use of data and skills. There is an even distribution of digital skills at the leadership and professional levels. While great strides have been made in this area through the government’s GDS Academy, more needs to be done to ensure that people finish education and training with the relevant and desired digital skills to start work when they join the GDS. public sector workforce.
But not everything is pessimism. Danny Bluestone is the founder and CEO of Cyber-Duck, a digital agency that works extensively with a range of public sector departments, from local councils to the NHS.
“The government has largely adopted lean and agile management frameworks to govern, support and deliver large-scale business programs and projects that mimic the private sector,” he explains. “Combined with knowledge sharing and continuous improvement, the government can create a culture of innovation internally and with key suppliers.”
Adobe research also found that 61% of staff felt their organization lacked critical public sector digital skills, such as design thinking or journey mapping. Bluestone points out that looking to the private sector can help avoid some of the high-profile and unfortunate failures: “When government functions have tried to reinvent the wheel, spend substantial sums and only then realize that it is better to use software development for big technology companies like Apple and Android”, he says.
The differences between public and private
Wallace is at pains to point out that the public and private sectors are different beasts, noting that how technology and digital transformation are positioned in the public sector is key. He recounts how robotic process automation (RPA) made it possible to speed up and improve data sharing to address housing and social issues, leading to increased customer satisfaction and, crucially, improved community well-being. . “We need to inform the staff to go out and be on the front lines. In the housing department, they were trying to do too much and morale was low. Now, [with RPA] they are getting job satisfaction.
“We have to focus on frontline digital skills and awareness of what is digital and what is not. In the current climate, there is the fear factor that whatever you are transforming is going to lead to you losing your job,” she adds.
Bluestone has been part of many transformation projects. “Any organization can have a fantastic strategy, delivery and technology. But without the right culture, any program or project will slow down or fail. This is where models like ADKAR (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement) are proven change management frameworks.”
With pressures from the public, the press, internal culture and cost considerations, are purpose and work-life balance enough to keep leaders like Wallace in the public sector? “I’ve had moments wondering if I want to continue this,” he says, but adds, “We’re so risk-averse to put our heads over the parapet and celebrate wins because that’s not the culture we have in the public. sector. We’re just doing our job. But I am proud of my efforts, I am proud of my team and what we do with partners across Scotland. Why wouldn’t I want to celebrate that?