The public sector must invest more in technology, writes Ben Dowd, O2’s business director
With recent research indicating that one in five people in the UK would vote for a political party that makes digital policies a priority – and a further 50 per cent believing the government could do more to improve the country’s digital strategy, it’s clear today’s politicians need to pay more than just lip service to digital public services.
And, encouragingly, both the main political parties have already outlined strategies to increase the UK’s ability to deliver them. While the chancellor has pledged to build on the success of the coalition’s Digital by Default strategy by increasing uptake of digital public services by 10 per cent, Labour’s Making Digital Government Work for Everyone report has called for a 25 per cent reduction in the number of people without internet access. Having supported digital transformation within businesses throughout my career, it’s heartening to see that the gap of digital investment between public and private sectors is being addressed.
While we’re fortunate that the government has started to invest in digital technology, there remains a huge amount of work to be done. For example, research we conducted with the Centre for Economic and Business Research revealed that investment in connectivity technology can bring £7.2bn in efficiency savings to the UK’s largest public sector organisations every year. From providing police officers with access to vital information while they’re responding to an emergency, to unchaining frontline care workers from their desks so they can spend more time with clients, digital has the potential to increase operational efficiency and lower costs.
Another often-overlooked benefit of investment in digital relates to citizens’ experiences of public services. As the success of the government’s Digital Service initiative to move the 25 most-used public services online shows, digitisation can actually improve service delivery at the same time as saving cash. Whether it’s allowing first-time passport applicants to access the registration system via their smartphones, or reducing the time it takes for students to apply for student funding, digital will play a vital role in increasing and improving citizens’ everyday engagement with public services.
One of the most exciting digital opportunities in the public sector relates to national politics and how we engage the nation to vote. With voter turnout in national and local elections at worryingly low levels, encouraging citizens to engage with the political process is one of the major issues of our time. To combat this, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, has recommended that all voters be given the opportunity to vote online or by mobile for the general election in 2020. This is a huge but exciting challenge; and although it will be no easy feat, I believe the progress digital has made in both the private and public sectors over recent years is testament to the fact that user-led investment in technology can bring about huge changes in service delivery.
Mobile is already a core infrastructure for the UK but the importance of a consistent and reliable digital experience will increase as demand grows for data and services on the move. Given the benefits on offer, I hope that the public sector continues to take advantage of the UK’s digital potential so we can all enjoy a more efficient, convenient and cost-effective society.