Transforming public services

25/1/8: Bill McCluggage Picture: Michael Cooper Bill McCluggage looks at the role of technology in transforming public services.

Technology and its impact on the public sector has been a roller-coaster ride involving an ever-increasing speed of change over the past 10 years. Public services have not been exempt from the impact of advanced in technology. The advent of technological solutions to most problems has had a causal impact on the way we live our lives and this has happened within a fraction of a lifetime of one generation.

I have been privileged to experience the impact of technology enabled change through three particular lenses: CIO for the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Deputy UK Government CIO and Irish Government CIO. It has also given me a unique perspective on how technology is being used to drive change.

In the early to mid-2000s, Northern Ireland had a clear vision of the future. Looking back, it was a formative time for the development of an exemplar range of shared services such as: HRConnect, AccountNI, RecordsNI, NetworkNI and IT Assist. However, the most exciting by far was the groundwork done on the multi-channel contact centre strategy that has now become NIDirect – a service that touches people across the breadth of Northern Ireland and beyond. It is worth gov.uk

In terms of next steps, I believe the focus is now turning to the task of improving the citizen-facing line of business services. This can be seen across the Health Service, where Northern Ireland is at the cusp of exploiting e-health and connected health to drive improvements in individual wellbeing.

So what of the seed change that has happened across Whitehall over the past few years and the wider public sector world of ICT in Great Britain? In 2010, the new Coalition Government embarked on a fresh new agenda, tackling cost reduction, the introduction of a new approach to the procurement of ICT services by government and the wider public sector through the G-Cloud framework and ‘CloudStore’, and the creation of a new Government Digital Service under Mike Bracken CBE.

ICT spend controls was a first step in cutting back on wasteful ICT practices and the rebranding of the Government CIO post to CTO signalled the next step in delivering change. Other key areas of ICT-enabled service delivering across health, justice and the local government sector have also undergone major transformation – largely driven by austerity and the cost-saving agenda.

Ireland has seen its reform programme deliver dividends but there is still much more to do. There are some best of class examples of modern ICT-enabled change going on in Ireland. There is a recognition that in a modern digital society, identity underpins the delivery of digital services and the introduction of the public service card (PSC) will enable more rapid verification of an individual’s identity. Data sharing and governance are now being addressed, and the infrastructure that supports the PSC will be used to support the digitalisation of a range of other services.

The focus on the shared service agenda continues and HR shared services are in the process of being rolled out. Implementation of payroll shared services has just commenced and delivery of financial management and probably ICT shared services are now on the starting line.

Austerity has bitten hard and there is a ‘technology deficit’ in many parts of the public service in Ireland that needs to be addressed. Spend on ICT needs to be rebalanced to drive the next stage of innovation and reform, and recently published Reform Plan 2014-2016 is a welcome next stage.

There is much in common in the various approaches and while the focus may be on different areas, in general all three jurisdictions are charting a common path towards the delivery of new digitally enabled services, and I believe the next 10 years will be even more exciting for the public sector across the UK and Ireland.

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