Digital automation in central government
Central government is currently having to battle tough challenges on a number of different fronts. While some of them have emerged more recently, on the back of events such as COVID-19 and a turbulent energy market, some have gradually developed in severity over time. Perhaps the most timely at present are the need to meet net zero carbon targets, alongside the current economic uncertainty and ballooning government debt. Although governments worldwide, including the UK Government, have set ambitious goals in terms of combating climate change, only two nations are currently meeting their targets around decarbonisation. At the same time, high inflation (at the time of writing) and a cost of living crisis is leading to financial instability and further demand for the government to support taxpayers. Wider societal issues include an ageing population that is creating new demands for services in care, housing and financial management, as well as decline in trust of government and a lack of citizen-centric services. Add in the fact that legacy IT systems are struggling with an ever-larger volume of data and a public-sector workforce that is increasingly working remotely, and it’s clear that change is sorely needed.
What is causing these challenges?
There are a variety of different factors that are making all these challenges so pressing for central government. At a technical level, there is a reluctance to transition away from legacy IT systems, partly because departments don’t recognise how inefficient they can be. For example, in December 2021, a Public Accounts Committee report stated that “too often operations and services fail to recognise the fundamental inefficiencies of legacy systems and their data; and instead build new systems on top of these using the old data”. This leads to hours or even days every month being wasted on reconciling data and dealing with paperwork, time that could be spent improving service delivery or running a more cost-effective department. More widely, departmental IT functions often suffer from poor structure and funding, where they are unable to make long-term decisions and commit to major digital transformation projects. They’re also held back by the breadth and complexity of government as a whole, which can hinder the ability to adopt common approaches and integrate across different systems and departments.
Introducing Enterprise Service Management (ESM) for central government
The most cost-effective, practical solution to these challenges is digital automation, and specifically Enterprise Service Management (ESM). This involves combining human and automated processes to streamline them and speed them up, in order to improve overall productivity. They leverage the core principles of IT service management so that they can be applied across all functions, whether ESM is provided as a fully managed service or through self-managed plug-and-play technologies. A good example of where ESM can be applied to good effect is in tax administration. Instead of taxpayers getting frustrated by a long and highly manual process full of complexity, automation can relieve much of the burden. Previously supplied data can be used to pre-fill tax return documents, and when taxpayers accidentally make errors entering figures, automation can check for similar figures that are most likely to be correct and iron out common mistakes at the source. A more general example is in the management of requests and interactions between various departments and beyond into other layers of government. Much of this is often managed through email exchanges to large groups, including those who needn’t be involved. By implementing ESM, many of these requests are able to be automated to ensure they’re routed through to the right person, team or system. This improves efficiency, improves workflow management and ensures better outputs and performance through visibility.
Benefits of ESM for central government
When an ESM solution is fully implemented, the benefits and efficiencies that seamless automation can deliver can spread far and wide across all types of government department, including:
- Sync people and resources: matching the right services to the right people, based on a single source of truth to data, can help everyone get better service delivery, and help civil servants deliver those services more efficiently. This can help re-establish trust between government and the public
- Drive productivity: using automation to take over the more time-consuming and repetitive tasks that staff currently have to do can free up their time for more strategic initiatives. For example, paper-based processes can be replaced by self-service applications
- Boost cost efficiency and security: replacing legacy systems with one service management platform is more cost-effective, more reliable and less vulnerable to breaches of sensitive public data
- Improved capacity and skills: not only can automation allow more to get done with existing resources, but it frees up human skill sets to be applied where they’re needed most. This can allow for even higher service volumes to be achieved, helping cater for an increasing and ageing population
- Meet wider societal targets: automation allows more flexible services to be delivered around the clock, and reduce the carbon footprint by removing the need for taxpayers to travel to get access to them
Prime use cases for digital automation
From the specific perspective of central government, there is a wide variety of use cases to which ESM can be applied. These include (and are by no means limited to):
- Information technology: support for IT services, including ITIL processes, asset and change management, and configuration
- Finance and business services: easy management and distribution of financial requests, such as CAPEx, legal contract reviews, and efficient processing of data and workflows
- HR services and staff welfare: HR enquiry management, payroll queries, issues and HR request processing
- Security services: quick reporting and response to incidents such as fire, damage, crime, and other security-related issues
- Estates and facilities management: improved management and timely replacement of physical assets, ensuring the quality of offices can be maintained
- Form workflow: specific request form process covering department requirements, reducing reliance on email process tracking, improving insight and performance
ESM is the ideal way to maximise the potential of digital automation right across central government. It can help cut out the inefficiency from legacy systems, allow for better integration and coordination between departments, and enable better service delivery to rebuild public trust and maximise spending efficiency. But as with any new technology, it needs careful planning and deployment so that automation is applied in the places where the benefit would be greatest. This is where the advice and expertise of a third-party partner can make all the difference. SCC’s unrivalled ESM experience and solutions makes us ideal for advising and deploying automation to best effect for government departments. Take a look at what we do and how we do it here.
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