How Can Digital Transformation Directly Impact Online Services?
When the UK fell silent during the Covid-19 lockdown, public and non-profit organisations were galvanised by the need to continue their work, with the resulting acceleration in online services driven by digital transformation.
Here, we examine how digital transformation has impacted online services for both organisations and candidates, and ask if it has all been positive.
According to a recent report by Virgin Media Business and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), the pandemic accelerated digital transformation by three years. Furthermore, the report says, the resulting change within the public sector sphere could add £100 billion to UK GDP by 2040, as well as increasing employee productivity and satisfaction.
Hybrid working, for example, could allow 3.8 million more people into the world of work – people with disabilities, parents with young children, and carers could benefit from the opportunity to work from home and fit their working hours around their responsibilities or abilities.
This method of working, the CEBR says, could give regional economies a £30 billion+ boost thanks to people being able to work where they choose. The NHS could also reap a financial saving of over £4 billion per year, due to people being able to prioritise their own health and that of those they are responsible for. Plus, in this era of catastrophic climate change, hybrid working could see the UK’s CO2 emissions fall by as much as 0.7%.
Let’s look at some real life examples of online services being improved by digital transformation:
The Snowdrop Project is a South Yorkshire charity supporting survivors of human trafficking. During the pandemic, it supported its clients via a range of online services designed to ease mental health issues and boost wellbeing. These included Zoom calls to relieve isolation-based anxiety, as well as offering virtual baking, sewing and English language classes to build long-term skills during a period of great stress.
East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust has invested in collaboration tools such as tablets and compatible software to enable faster and simpler document input and retrieval for staff. This not only enabled them to work in ‘real time’, but also allowed remote working, and easier communication between sites, saving on journey costs too.
Caritas Salford, which provides refugees with educational services, moved its courses online during the pandemic. Researchers at the University of Manchester Alliance Manchester Business School studied the results of this and found that in the first couple of weeks attendance rates increased, and new learners and volunteers from outside the charity’s catchment area also joined the virtual programme. The practitioners running the courses said that because of the lack of the daily commute, they found they had more time to engage with students and were able to focus more on the delivery of the service.
Are there any downsides?
The undoubted benefits of online services must, however, be tempered with realism. Digital transformation within local authorities, for example, is uneven due to a lack of funding and uncoordinated support from central government, and many councils are still to engage fully with the process because of a lack of commitment.
The Public Policy Exchange recently held an event entitled “Digital Transformation in Local Government: Ensuring High-quality, User-friendly Digital Services for All”, the abstract for which noted that, “by November 2021, only 49% of local authorities employed a chief digital officer (CDO), digital director, or equivalent responsible for overseeing the organisation’s digital transformation.”
The rise in demand for online services, especially after the pandemic, is astonishing. The Charity Digital Skills Report 2022 notes the transformation of the sector over the last two years, with 82% of charities seeing digital as a high priority, and over half (56%) of them having a digital strategy. The report also states, however, that there are still barriers in place to digital progress, with funding for soft and hardware being the most pressing (40%) and skills training for staff and volunteers being the next (38%). 64% have expressed concern for client data use and collection, and 18% report that they do not have a skilled IT advisor.
While the benefits of digital transformation in the public sector and non-profit organisations are varied, the ongoing challenges are many. They include:
Drawing up a clear, strategic vision of digital transformation
Creating a policy of strong leadership with the vision to implement changes
An appreciation of the considerable resources needed, both to implement and maintain online services
A crystal clear understanding of the outcomes of online capabilities
A full appreciation of the security implications of such a service
While the answers may lie with full, unambiguous funding from central government (in line with its ‘Levelling Up’ and ‘Digital Strategy’ ambitions) the actual implementation of online services which benefit the general public will come from the highly-skilled and ambitious people now entering the third sector and public sector workforce.
They will be responsible for the cybersecurity, the data protection, the back and front end and the functionality of all online services going forward, and it is incumbent on those policy and decision makers currently responsible for implementing services to ensure that they have the skills and resources to do so.
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