Digital and Data Roadmap progress report: How are government departments doing?

14th December 2023

Civica’s research reveals where obstacles remain and how to speed up the journey by assessing perceived progress against the six missions outlined by the government.

In June 2022, the UK government unveiled its touchstone strategy, Transforming for a digital future: 2022 to 2025 roadmap for digital and data. Through six key missions, it aims to overhaul citizen experiences, empower better use of data, modernise technologies and instil the right skills across government. Civica, which has over 30 years of experience in public sector software, studied departments’ perceived progress a year later, and here are the mission-by-mission assessments.

Mission One: Transformed public services that achieve the right outcomes

The first mission in the roadmap focuses squarely on transforming citizen experiences of public services. The aim is that by 2025, at least 50 of the government’s top 75 services will be operating to a ‘great’ standard.

This mission is critical because citizens now expect services comparable to the best consumer experiences from user-centric digital brands. Yet currently, as confirmed by the Central Digital & Data Office (CDDO), only around 20% of the top 75 government services are rated ‘great’.

Significant work lies ahead to overhaul services and make them consistently seamless and user-friendly. There are some encouraging signs of progress. Initiatives like the Brexit checker and flood-warning information services have been redeveloped using agile approaches with a relentless focus on user needs. Customer satisfaction scores have risen as a result.

Civica’s survey of almost 600 civil servants revealed that ‘improving public service user experience’ remains their top priority. Some 58% see it as a leading focus for the next two years, demonstrating the continued centrality of citizen needs on the digital transformation agenda.

However, unlocking first-rate user experiences will take sustained focus and investment. Legacy IT systems and data challenges can constrain public sector teams from realising the full potential of digital channels. Budget constraints were also cited as the top barrier by 47% of civil servants surveyed, indicating that funding pressures may limit the pace of change.

Through national coordination and sharing of what works across boundaries, Mission One represents a watershed moment. It compels every public service to up its game in delivering digital experiences comparable to the best of the private sector. Citizens will see incremental improvements if this concerted focus can be maintained through the subsequent phases of transformation up to 2025 and beyond.

Mission Two: GOV.UK One Login

The second mission in the digital roadmap sets out plans for secure single sign-on across all government services by 2025. Avoiding citizens re-entering the same information repeatedly at different contact points creates a smoother, joined-up experience.

GOV.UK One Login aims to offer exactly that. It uses methods like app- and web-based identity checking to verify users. It is already live and handling millions of verifications, with around ten government services currently connected.

Single sign-on removes friction that creates frustrating experiences for citizens. It also streamlines identity verification to combat fraud and errors. On the government side, it drives efficiency by cutting duplicate processes.

Yet, user awareness remains relatively low at this stage, likely because most major department services are not yet integrated. Communicating the progress made to date and gaining buy-in across departments will be essential to drive the rapid adoption of GOV.UK One Login across more services.

Positively, the Civica survey showed that ‘integrating services’ is set to rise up the priority list for civil servants over the next two years. Over one-third of respondents (37%) see it becoming more crucial versus just 21% listing it as a current top-five priority.

This requires technical integration and deep collaboration across central and departmental teams. If achieved, it will provide a solid platform for seamless experiences.

Mission Three: Better data to power decision making

Smarter use of data stands at the heart of public sector digital transformation. Mission Three addresses data quality, availability, ethics and capabilities.

Good foundations have been laid, including minimum standards introduced for collecting data. However, as the Civica report finds, 84% of civil servants agree that ‘poor quality data impedes effective decision-making’. Further, improving the quality of the data government holds, and making more effective use of it, will enable better, data-driven decisions.

The study also highlights that there is a clear need to improve operational efficiency and embrace modern tools, techniques, and capabilities to enhance public services. Notably, 88% of civil servants agree that ‘government organisations/departments should use modern technology that runs more efficiently and at a lower cost’, and three quarters agree that ‘technical debt, and legacy IT are impacting service delivery and ability to transform public services’.

There is broad recognition of the power of data as an asset, though, if obstacles can be overcome. For civil servants, ‘resolving data quality issues’ and ‘improving data visibility and sharing’ remain top-five priorities for the next two years. This validates that data must stay centre stage.

Key challenges ahead will be building skills to instil a truly data-driven culture, alongside giving civil servants the tools and technologies to realise the potential of data at scale.

Data literacy skills programmes are also rolling out across government, aiming to upskill over 90% of senior civil servants. Pleasingly, the day after the Civica report was published, the CDDO announced that 2,500 ambitious tech talents will be recruited into digital roles in government by June 2025 through new apprenticeship and early talent programmes.

Ethical use of data also needs more focus, given only 32% of respondents agree that their department/organization incorporates data ethics, responsible use of data and AI, into planning and use of data.

The roadmap has laid firm foundations to harness data for public good. But continued momentum behind data quality, analytics skills and responsible sharing will be essential through to 2025. With concerted leadership, data is poised to become a driving force behind upgraded public services.

Mission Four: Efficient, secure and sustainable technology

Legacy IT systems have long stifled innovation and efficiency across the public sector. They cost substantially more to maintain, lack the agility to respond quickly, and frustrate staff and citizens alike.

Mission Four initiated a coordinated drive across government to assess ageing technology infrastructure and to modernise or replace it. A key element is that all ‘red-rated’ legacy systems will have remediation plans defined and tracked. The Civica research revealed significant appetite from civil servants for this modernisation, with 71% adamant that replacing legacy systems is vital to transform IT platforms efficiently. There are some positive signs technology upgrades are happening – 82% of respondents were aware of progress in deploying new technologies over the past year. Notably, only 35% of civil servants agreed their department has a remediation plan for outdated systems.

Reducing the costly ‘technical debt’ from legacy systems was also cited as the digital transformation area seeing the least progress over the past year. Just 16% perceive significant improvement here.

Mission Five: Digital skills at scale

Equipping public sector teams with the right blend of digital, data and technology skills is crucial for transformation. Under Mission Five, over 90% of senior civil servants will be trained in digital and data essentials. Beyond upskilling leaders, it aims to build skills at all levels.

Civica’s research findings suggest skills development programmes are taking root. Of civil servants surveyed, 69% saw at least ‘moderate’ progress in digital capabilities across their department over the past year. Data skills training is also embedding new capabilities.

But a ‘lack of digital skills and knowledge’ was still highlighted as a top-five barrier by over a third (35%) of civil servants polled. Only 19% believed their department had made significant skills progress over the past 12 months.

Focusing on professional development will be essential over the long term, or skills gaps risk hindering digital transformation.

Mission Six: A system that unlocks digital tranformation

Finally, Mission Six instils the systemic changes needed to embed digital working methods. This spans modernising funding models, upgrading career structures and increasing agile development approaches.

New central bodies like the CDDO provide expert coordination to define standards and spread good practices across government. Leadership development initiatives are also important for cultural change.

Civica’s survey suggests work is still needed on systemic blockers. ‘Siloed working practices’ and budget limitations’ were cited as major barriers by 46% and 47% of respondents, respectively.

Through its missions, the roadmap compels a shift to digital services by default, not just as an option but as the only way to serve citizens looking ahead efficiently. By systematically addressing blockers, government departments have the opportunity to enable sustainable transformation.

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