by Jerry Fishenden

Better public services require entrepreneurship, not just engineering

Feb 06, 20153 mins
GovernmentIT Leadership

The planning, running and management of our public services has often diverged from the real-time data-driven insights and operations of the best organisations elsewhere. Yet timely, reliable and high quality information has always been essential to plan and run our public services.

Since at least 1999 the public sector has tried repeatedly to use technology as the principal means of bridging this gap, setting out a clear technical ambition that ” open standards need to be proscribed and interface standards needed to ensure good interworking must be defined. This will allow architectural components, services and supplier systems to be replaced easily and a ‘plug and play’ approach to be taken.”

This technology-led approach has aimed to engineer coherent, well-designed public services in place of the shantytown fragmentation and bespoke “home brew” approaches previously on offer from departments and agencies. During this time we have seen the emergence of re-usable cross-government components providing common services such as authentication, transaction and content management, secure messaging and payments. At the technical engineering level at least, interoperable service-based components and better data flows have become established best practice.

These historic efforts focused primarily on technical engineering efforts alone, isolated from wider cultural change. Yet the journey towards better public services has always needed to involve far more than well-engineered and pioneering technology initiatives: it requires radical improvements in the nature of the organisational culture, priorities and operations of government itself.

This is why plans for civil service reform are as significant as the long-standing technical vision, particularly the recognition that the right change skills must be embedded at every level and the commitment to amend legislation that prevents the provision of better services. At last both the technology and the leadership aspects of service improvement seem to be coming together.

It’s no wonder this challenging transition has been slow and difficult to achieve through technology alone. In the past, government departments and agencies have placed themselves at the centre of everything instead of the citizen. The post-digital vision for our public services is radically disruptive, placing citizens at the centre instead, with government required to re-orientate itself around them. This change to an “outside-in” model reflects what we have seen in the best and most successful digital organisations elsewhere.

The way we can now design and continuously fine-tune our public services requires very different management and organisational skills to the past. Extensive change management and entrepreneurial capabilities need to be combined with the ability to interpret and act upon real-time data, enabling services to be adjusted and improved in response to the evolving needs of citizens, businesses and public workers.

In the future, public sector organisations will not only have access to real-time service data, but also the capability to analyse and act upon it in a timely and relevant fashion. This is the real significance of the latest moves towards a new culture of digital public service management – one that understands success relies not on technology alone, but from the creative blend of engineering and entrepreneurship.