Public sector leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated with the slow progress made towards a fully digital government, according to a report.
Deloitte’s latest annual The State of the State study, published today, assesses public services across UK and looks at the trends that will affect the future of government, including Brexit, automation and digital change.
It claims that 850,000 jobs could be lost to automation by 2030 over delays to digitisation.
Based on interviews with public sector leaders, the report said that digital transformation is struggling to meet the ambition and that the attitude of those working in the public sector is shifting.
It said that the tone of the interviews has changed “from ambition to frustration at the barriers to progress” and that most had said they wanted to see it accelerated.
For instance, the report said that one permanent secretary in a devolved administration felt that his department was “always a year away from an outcome”, while one council chief executives rated his authority’s progress to digital as “four out of ten.”
The same dissatisfaction at progress is evident across the different areas of the public sector as well as across most of the UK, the report said.
In Scotland, the head of a national body reportedly said: “We’re at Digital 1.0, but Digital 3.0 or 4.0 is where we need to be.” Meanwhile, the report said that Northern Ireland appears to have seen the most focused progress, citing the fact its civil service exceeded its 2016 digital targets.
However, the report said that the leaders understood the barriers to transformation, with a lack of skills being the most significant barrier to change.
The report noted that this is not just in recruiting and retaining digital expertise, but in leading transformation.
One comment from a council chief executive highlights the problem, which societies like the IT professional body Socitm have recently been trying to address through an increased focus on leadership and engagement of senior staff in digital transformation programmes.
The chief executive told Deloitte that many of his peers “pass anything digital to the head of IT”, concluding that “there’s a lack of competency to lead in a digital environment” across the public sector.
Further barriers identified included risk aversion, fear of failure and recriminations about past mistakes, with one minister telling the researchers: “We’re scarred from big IT projects so there’s a timidity to push the envelope.”
Others said that poor planning had stymied progress, with a number of comments indicating that there is a growing recognition within the public sector that they will need to innovate to reform whole services and not just focus on channel shift.
One council leader told Deloitte: “We’ve wasted time digitising systems that weren’t fit for purpose in the first place. It’s rethinking these systems that will radically improve productivity.”
The interviews also noted that digital exclusion was still a “live issue”, which is borne out in a separate section of the report that asked 1,000 members of the public how they wanted to engage with government.
It found that 59 per cent of people said they would use online as one of their top three preferred methods to find out information about a public service – however for many issues the government wants citizens to carry out online, they would opt for the phone.