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How to make the UK part of Europe’s Digital Diagonal

 

Digital is now a fundamental part of our everyday lives, from social media to mobile banking and government services should be no different. The latest eGoverment Benchmark, looking at the performance of countries within Europe to offer digital government services to their citizens reveals a gap between those that are performing well and those that aren’t.

The annual eGovernment Benchmark, conducted for the European Commission, evaluates public online services on four indicators in 34 European countries, which the countries use as a reference point for monitoring progress of the European Union eGovernment action plan. On the positive side, eGovernment implementation in Europe improves every year. At the same time, results are incremental and need to be accelerated in order to keep up with private sector, and citizens’ expectations. It seems governments across Europe lack decisiveness to digitise public services as well as their internal organisations. Research showed that Digital Transformation requires public authorities to build digital capabilities as well as ensure the leadership capabilities that are needed to steer and direct successful implementation of those capabilities. The results of the eGovernment Benchmark reveal that governments need to improve on three aspects in order to improve the experience of their citizens when accessing eGovernment services.

The overview in Europe

Firstly, governments must improve on eGovernment services that truly empower citizens and businesses by applying user insight to increase user experience for lifestyle events such as starting up a business, losing and finding jobs, and studying. At the moment 53 per cent of Brits use eGovernment services compared to 57 per cent of fellow Europeans and 91 per cent of Estonians and Danes. Current practice shows that:

  • Only 60 per cent of public services in Europe are fully available online (or are automated). While Estonia and Malta lead the way and have almost all their services online, the UK scores just below the EU
  • Only one in three public websites is considered mobile friendly despite nearly 278m Europeans accessing the Internet through a mobile device. Iceland offers the best mobile experience, just ahead of the UK.
  • Only 47 per cent of online services provide citizens with the information they need such as informing users of duration, response time, process steps and complaint options. Just three countries achieved a score above 75 per cent (Malta, Estonia, Lithuania) and provide an adequate service for their citizens.
  • Although more services are being brought online, the user experience is not advancing.  The ease and speed of using e-services is stagnating across Europe at 59 per cent. The UK scores fairly well with 67 per cent and is considered among the top performers.

In order for governments to be able to offer the kind of online experience that their citizens are demanding, they need to ensure their own internal operational processes are digitised and, as a result, efficient.

The results of the benchmark show that governments are struggling to achieve this through three key areas:

  • Re-use of personal data to pre-fill online forms is happening is less than half (49 per cent) of cases. Only three per cent of services are automated in Europe, which wouldn’t just help from a user perspective, but would also reduce paper forms and enable smooth processing in the back office.
  • The deployment of other key technological enablers (such as eID) is stagnating within Europe. Whereas Estonia has enabled eID for all its public services, countries like the UK aren’t performing as well and are missing the incentive to boost online opportunities and other services that would require authentication of users (for instance secure access to users’ personal data).
  • Online cross-border services are not a reality yet, with burdensome paper and face-to-face processes for both public authorities and users still the norm. The UK and Nordic countries are performing well though, in particular when it comes to enabling foreign businesses to access their public information.

Finally, governments need to explore new organisational models and explore new ways to deliver public value. New technologies are going to bring change and governments must be prepared to change with it to match citizens’ expectations.

Embracing new technologies can lead to new organisational models, such as those in Denmark which is the only country in the benchmark measurement that has made the vast majority of online services mandatory for citizens. Mandatory online services are becoming common practice for businesses eServices, including in the UK, but for most citizens this is still just a trend.

Digital technologies such as crowdsourcing can also lead to new applications that support service delivery and transparency. Switzerland experimented with a digital map where commercial service providers could list their eGovernment projects for Swiss government. It became a huge success as companies were eager to get on the map, and consequently it became clear for government what solutions were implemented where, and by whom. It also led to increased interoperability between public administrations.

Digitally joined-up government is critical to improving any of the above provided results are followed up. Yet the benchmark’s measurement of life events reveal there are silos existing that prevent seamless services. We found in a 2012 user survey that only 47 per cent of people were able to achieve the task they had set out to complete when attempting to contact administrations online. In the UK this score was at 57 per cent –not far behind frontrunners Denmark and Estonia (64 per cent).

Lessons for the UK

Each of these recommendations applies to the UK. Compared to peers such as Germany and France, the main difference where the country is falling behind is the availability and use of key technological enablers, such as eID or authentic sources that enable smart re-use of data. Rolling out the government’s Gov.UK Verify authentication system for eGovernment services, could dramatically change the UK’s position – in a positive way. Currently it has only experienced a limited roll-out, which is holding the country back. The real challenge for the UK is in cross-agency and cross-tier implementation of these technologies. The UK is seen by other countries as a role model for designing user friendly services, and for good reason, but the challenge is to put it into practice across all public authorities in the UK.

The need for investing in these digital capabilities are essentials for improving the online experience of citizens, but no transformation can be successfully completed without the right leadership capabilities. Successful digital transformations were steered from the top-down: providing the direction, building the momentum and bringing everyone along on that journey. Countries that can follow this strategy, not just the UK can use it to break out of the lower levels of the table and rise to the top of Europe’s digital rankings.

Niels van der Linden is Managing Consultant & eGov Benchmark lead at Capgemini

 

[i] Digital Transformation Framework as developed by the MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini Consulting, Digital Transformation: a roadmap for billion-dollar organizations, since 2011. Also see: https://www.capgemini-consulting.com/digital-transformation