Despite 25 years of attempts to deliver digital business change, the government continues to show a consistent pattern of underperformance, according to findings by the National Audit Office (NAO).
A new NAO report says this underperformance is often be the result of “programmes not being sufficiently thought through before key decisions on technology solutions are made.
“This means that there is a gap between what government intends to achieve and what it delivers to citizens and service users, which wastes taxpayers’ money and delays improvements in public services.”
The UK’s independent public spending watchdog says that if government is to improve its track record in delivering digital business change, it “must learn the hard-won lessons of experience and equip its leaders to act effectively.”
It notes that initiating digital change involves taking a difficult set of decisions about risk and opportunity, “but these decisions often do not reflect the reality of the legacy environment and do not fit comfortably into government’s standard mechanisms for approval, procurement, funding and assurance.”
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The report found that digital leaders understand these issues well and bring much needed expertise to the public sector, but they often struggle to get the attention, understanding and support they need from senior decision-makers who lack sufficient digital expertise.
The NAO added that there is widespread support from stakeholders for the centre of government to learn from the lessons identified in the report. It said the new Central Digital and Data Office, along with the Government Digital Service and the Cabinet Office, should work to provide clear leadership for this agenda.
It provides an extensive list of recommendations including revising existing training programmes to better equip and train all decision‑makers with responsibility for digital transformation programmes. This should include education on legacy systems, the importance of data and the risks of ‘build before buy’ and of opting for unproven technology.
The full list of recommendations can be found here.