The three As of better public sector services

  • Posted on May 22, 2023
  • Estimated reading time 7 minutes
Three As of better public sector services

It’s the kind of upheaval that permeates every level of government and the civil service, creating distractions from the job of ensuring the smooth running of Whitehall’s machinery.

Despite some glimmers of hope – such as the recent tax income surplus and positive economic signals – budgets are being reduced across the public sector. Many critical services are looking at cuts that could reduce or even eliminate some services.

However, the mood across the public sector is defiantly buoyant. There is a strong sense of ‘let's get through this the best we can’; a desire to work through cuts and overcome challenges through fresh thinking and unconventional ideas.

From quick hacks and workarounds to widescale innovations, everyone in the public sector wants to make the best of a difficult situation. Together we can innovate and transform to keep on delivering for UK citizens.

But how? Let’s look at three ways to put your department or team in the best possible position to deliver great services.

Ambition: Think big (but start small)
Don’t talk yourself out of ambitious projects by assuming they’re too expensive, too complex, or will take too long. Don’t only target the low-hanging fruit or the bare minimum required by law. Go upstream and find the solution to the root causes of the problem, not just the symptoms.

At the same time, make your objectives clear, precise and realistic – and know your limits as a team or department. Asking a strategic partner like Avanade to provide input before you get started could help you understand what’s possible and what’s not. Your big idea might be more achievable than you think.

It’s something the Police Federation of England and Wales did so well when it asked Avanade to overhaul its ageing membership database. It could have patched over the problems by adding workarounds to the 20-year-old database system, but it decided to be ambitious and solve the source of the problem, not treat the symptoms. Avanade replaced the legacy system with a single Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation, giving the organisation a secure portal to create and process cases, manage membership management, migrate siloed legacy claims management databases and much more. This new system has proved much more cost-effective in the long run compared to frequently patching the old system.

Ambitious thinking needs rapid, non-stop innovation. To do that, the public sector needs to dial up the startup mindset it has been cultivating for many years. A blend of private-sector-style innovative thinking and public-sector accountability (notably of taxpayers’ money), caution and restraint. It’s a blend of fast-paced innovation with pragmatic, results-driven ways of working. The days of slow, waterfall development are gone. Faster iterative, agile sprints need to be used as widely as possible. And most recently, generative AI has become a major force almost overnight. You can read more about our take on ChatGPT and generative AI, including our own experiences, here.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about ‘move fast and break things’. The old-school Silicon Valley ethos of skipping directly to the development phase and iterating until you get what you need, using the many inevitable failures and trip-ups as valuable lessons, is (I believe) now unfit for purpose if interpreted in its original sense. More on this in section three below.

The idea of seed funding isn’t limited to private-sector start-ups. Secure the money for a proof of concept and move forward from there. Once you have evidence of success, you can head back for more investment.

The mantra for the public sector today is often ‘adopt, not adapt’. In other words, avoid large, costly, time-consuming custom development projects and adopt pre-built, proven systems.

Adaptation of your ways of working

Across the public sector, digital transformation journeys are well underway but also some distance from completion. One of the pillars of progress towards your digital transformation goals is to work within the guardrails of public sector governance while intelligently applying new governance.

Public sector governance was designed at a time before the cloud and before agile, iterative development practices. But the government is doing much to adopt the best parts of private sector innovation, which means making at least some changes to governance.

This leads to another challenge: there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all governance. It needs to change depending on the type of project. Building a bridge or a train line or a hospital is very different to building software. Infrastructure or services projects can’t afford to fail fast and iterate; they’re a different beast altogether. But software projects can (and usually should) move fast. For so many software and development projects, no one knows exactly what they need when they start – and if they think they do, they’re probably wrong. The path to great software is rarely a straight line.

So, what’s the answer to this sticky question of governance? Rather than needing everything called-out in explicit detail before anyone starts building anything, we recommend trialling ‘light’ governance on a small starter project to see how things go. Then use the resulting insights to shape your prototype governance for the larger piece of work. And don’t forget about key documents, such as DPIA (data protection impact assessments). Ensure they are 'living' docs, and actively and openly include governance personnel on day-to-day project updates. Make these important people part of the solution, not a perceived blocker.

Instead of waterfall or traditional agile working methodologies, government is making efforts to move to a SAFe methodology, or ‘scaled agile framework’ (we applaud the move). In our experience, we find agile governance on its own, like SAFe, works best. But don’t try to blend waterfall and agile in any kind of hybrid governance. It won’t work out – even if it does feel like the faster and easier option.

Going all-in on agile governance is not as difficult as it first appears; the key is to find the right experts who can intelligently apply the principles rather than blindly applying procedures meant for different purposes.

It’s a methodology we used at AQA, the GCSE and A-Level exam board. Its marking and results system needed a complete rebuild, so we designed and deployed a system based on Microsoft Azure cloud using automation at its heart. The system uses automation to speed up the scanning of 142 million pages and mark 10.9 million exam papers.

Automation, AI and data

The Government’s Shared Services Strategy seeks to deliver modern cloud-based systems with intuitive, easy-to-use, mobile-enabled and time-saving processes. All admirable goals. But what’s the secret ingredient that can make it all happen? Automation.

Automation – and we should add Generative AI into the mix here too – can help mitigate the impact of budget cuts: in our experience, this helps clients save time and money, letting employees focus on more important tasks. It’s being used extensively at EDF Hinkley Point C, where a new Avanade-implemented document management and compliance tool uses automation and templating to accelerate the rollout of new solutions and simplify support.

Automation is nothing without good data. Data is much hyped, but basic struggles are rife. Data often needs extensive work to make it clean enough to analyse. How can you make this happen cost-effectively? Avanade has pre-built data management services to get your raw data fit for purpose.

The University of Wales Trinity Saint David and its Advanced Manufacturing Industry 4.0 research team have made full use of automation, AI and data with a new workplace technology project.

Powerful partnerships for today and tomorrow
Avanade is more than just about delivering complete, ready-to-run solutions (although we do that too). We’re a true strategic partner, tried and tested in the public sector. Plenty of organisations have strategists, technologists or managed service teams – far fewer have all three of these at a world-class level. We do.

Avanade is a strategic partner, and that means we’re there for the long haul. If you’ve had enough of hit-and-run consultancies and need both organisational and technical experts to work alongside your department or team, we’d love to chat.

Don’t throttle back on your ambition. Contact us today to discuss your project scope and we’ll help you assess the feasibility.

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