Consistent pattern of underperformance in digital change

The National Audit Office has said that senior government decision makers need to better understand the business, technical and delivery risks associated with digital programmes in order to deliver digital business change effectively.

Transformation of public services is increasingly led by digitally enabled business change. Despite 25 years of government strategies and countless attempts to deliver digital business change successfully, the NAO says that there is a consistent pattern of underperformance. This underperformance is often the result of decision makers fixing on technology solutions before fundamental aspects of projects and programmes are sufficiently thought through.

The watchdog found that only a small proportion of senior officials in government have first-hand experience of digital business change and as a result many lack sufficient understanding of the technical and delivery risks for which they are responsible. Many of the problems that occur in large digital operational change programmes stem from senior decision-makers’ inability to understand the issues and make the decisions required to implement digital change in an effective way.

Pressures on public finances mean there is an urgent need for those designing and delivering digital business change programmes to learn from past mistakes. The NAO says that there are six vital areas decision-makers need to get right if they are to stand the best chance of delivering these projects successfully: understanding aim, ambition and risk; engaging commercial partners; approach to legacy systems and data; using the right mix of capability; choice of delivery method; and effective funding mechanisms.

The NAO recommends that the Central Digital and Data Office, along with the Government Digital Service and the Cabinet Office, reviews and applies lessons learned from past failures and successes to improve government’s delivery of digital programmes.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Whilst digital leaders bring much needed expertise to the public sector, they often struggle to get the understanding and support they need from senior decision-makers, who lack knowledge in this area.

“There has been a consistent pattern of underperformance in delivering digital business change, often resulting from decisions on technology being taken too early, before the business problem is properly understood. Government must learn from past experience and better equip senior leaders if it is to improve its track record of delivering digital change.”

Event Diary

The Security Event is set to be the first major exhibition to take place in the sector when it opens its doors on 7-9 September 2021 at the NEC in Birmingham and for the first time it will also encompass the National Cyber Security Show.

digitech21 will seek to demystify the increasingly complex technology landscape and will showcase a host of public sector best practice case studies and the very best solution providers, each of whom are helping organisations to transform and improve the way in which the public sector delivers services to the citizen.

Supplier Profiles