Experts discuss Government Digital Strategy, lessons for local councils at Digital Leaders event

Experts discuss Government Digital Strategy, lessons for local councils at Digital Leaders event

Building compelling services

The Digital Leaders programme held an event on February 8th at the Department for Business Innovation Skills titled ‘DL2 Channel Shift: Transforming Digital Public Services’, which saw big names in the government digital world speak to delegates about the Government’s Digital Strategy as well as ‘lessons and advice on how to develop a new organisational mindset’.

The event was chaired by Rachel Neaman, deputy director, digital, channel strategy and publishing, Department of Health.

The first half included a talk by Mike Beaven from the Government Digital Service while the second half was a panel discussion with audience participation. The panel included Allen Graham, chief executive of the Rushcliffe Borough Council, and Charles Mindenhall, chairman and co-founder of Agilisys, one of the sponsors of the evening.

Beaven spoke about the high transactional costs most departments face, such as Land Registry and PAYE, and the importance of moving these online, as the government has done with the student loan process, which took 8-9 months and improved customer satisfaction from 62% to about 80%.

He stressed on the importance of bringing in citizens during the development phase rather than when the product was ready to go live. For student loans, for instance, they asked students to speak to designers so that the latter knew of the former’s needs right from the get-go.

He discussed the process in great detail of completing such a task, which included: proposition assessment, delivery approach, design principles, co-delivery, capacity building and suppliers to work with. He also said that a digital by default standard would be out by April, which would greatly assist departments and councils in moving processes online.

As for how to drive digital adoption, “if you build compelling services,” he said, “there will be a natural migration.” He suggested that departments simply stop giving people forms to fill out and give them a URL to go to instead; engage with user groups; and, above all, let the products speak for themselves. Expensive marketing campaigns and TV ads, he said, were not needed.

Neaman spoke about how in the Department of Health, the mantra is ‘digital first’ rather than ‘digital by default’ and that the department by no means want to completely eliminate face-to-face services: Digital should be there only where it can provide efficiency and ease for the user.

Mindenhall of Agilisys spoke about the “consumerisation of IT” – he said that smartphone penetration in the UK was up from 7% to 70% and tablet penetration was at 30%, and this will continue to increase. Rather than digital first, perhaps the government and councils should be thinking of ‘mobile first’.

He spoke about some success stories: Agilisys, he informed the audience, was working with Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which had 83,000 households, and where the council website sign-up was at 87,000; while Barking and Dagenham processed 100% of its benefits claims online.

He gave another statistic: 60% of those who make calls to the council get the phone number online. The challenge then is to get them to stay online rather than make that call, thereby saving councils money.

Graham of Rushcliffe Borough spoke about the need for culture change, building confidence in citizens of using services online, working out their issues and putting them first.

He spoke of the young people in the borough who had set up their own social network, with career and apprenticeship information – citizens “designing it for themselves, that’s key”.

David Mortimer, head of digital inclusion at Age UK, said that it wasn’t just about “if you build it, they will come” because many simply feel they lack online skills. He said the government must focus on improving these skills and creating a behavioural change.

David Dinsdale, e-government product director at Atos, showed the audience what his idea of his perfect government website would be. It was called and included sections like ‘my car’, ‘my job’, ‘tax – my contribution’ and so on. He also showed them a mock car app which included reminders for when MOT was due and the worth and age of the car.

The last issue discussed by the panel was that of trust in online services, which the panel believed young people are much more willing to do than the elderly.

Neaman said that it is estimated 10-12% of the population will never go online – often because they don’t want to. Graham suggested, and this was the advice of everyone on the panel, that if there was focus on value to the end user, this could help break down the barrier for such people.

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