What is the Second Wave of Digital for public services and why do you need it?

By Rob Mettler

What is the Second Wave of Digital for public services and why do you need it?

We’re in an era where public sector funding is decreasing while demand for public services is increasing. An era where people expect 24/7 access to public services on a range of digital devices. An era where there are growing challenges from global instability, an ageing population and cyber insecurity. The Second Wave of Digital Transformation can help overcome these challenges for the public sector.

Where has the Second Wave come from?

The First Wave of Digital Transformation for the public sector was built on the 2012 Government Digital Strategy and the work of GDS (Government Digital Service). It laid great digital foundations, with work including: 

  • online voting used by over 3 million voters before the 2017 general election
  • the GDS service manual, tools and re-usable digital services like Notify and Verify
  • and a strong transition to online across the public sector e.g. local council parking permits online

Following this came the Government’s 2017 Transformation Strategy and Industrial Strategy – both of which focussed on digital ambition and workforce - heralding The Second Wave of Digital for public services. This second wave is borne of the constant pace of digital innovation and ever changing human behaviour. This isn’t a blip or phase we are going through, this is the new status quo.

There’s also a genuine desire in the public sector to use digital to do things differently. Public services are looking to find new ways to serve people, rather than simply putting paper forms online. The trials of Amelia, an AI online customer service agent, at Enfield Council and the use of Alexa to support social care by Hampshire County Council provide clear evidence of this.

So what is the Second Wave?

The Second Wave of Digital Transformation exploits the demands of an increasing digital population and the power of the latest innovations to meet ever increasing service demand. It will be characterised by these seven themes: 

  1. AI and robotics – which let us automate arduous manual tasks, increasing access for users and letting us focus human resources on the most vulnerable and the biggest threats
  2. Platforms - make it easy re-use digital services on multiple tasks and lets others, like businesses, use those platforms for their own needs
  3. Data science - gets genuine operational value out of data and embeds it into day to day working, rather than just looking at what’s been done before
  4. The digital workforce - adds greater creativity and technological innovation skills, essential for a thriving UK economy in a post Brexit world
  5. The power of community - gains benefit from shared objectives using ecosystems of start-ups, community groups, the gig economy and the third sector
  6. The increasingly digital physical world - uses internet-enabled objects to deliver services and data
  7. Emerging technology initiatives - like GovTech, RegTech, FinTech, provide fit for purpose technology to industry sectors.

These new platforms and technologies are the new foundations of government, just as the civic buildings of Whitehall were before them. They will require public sector organisations to become digital at the core, not just at the fringe to succeed.

Embracing the second wave is not an option

Using the Second Wave of Digital will not only let citizens and organisations engage whenever and wherever they want, it will also lower the cost of service delivery and free public servants to focus on the most vulnerable in society and the biggest challenges.

This Second Wave of Digital is critical to delivering the ambitions of the public sector. Those who embrace it to evolve their services, their culture and their capabilities will be the most successful in these uncertain times.

This is the first of a series of PA insights on the second wave of digital, the next will start to look at how it can successfully be delivered.

About the authors

Rob Mettler PA digital expert

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