Digital self-service in the Public Sector... 3 years on

We analyse the past three years of the GOSS Digital Self-Service in the Public Sector report findings to investigate how attitudes to digital transformation and online service delivery are developing.

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The UK's Public Sector faces an ongoing threat from shrinking budgets, rising costs and increased demand. Nonetheless, delivering services online through self-service mechanisms has become a cornerstone of digital transformation to improve customer services while tackling budget deficits via efficient online service delivery. Each year GOSS surveys over 200 of these organisations to understand how the market's approach to digital transformation is shifting, and how attitudes to digital self-service uptake are developing.


Entitled Digital Self-Service in the Public Sector, the survey has been running since 2015, with the 4th edition due to be published this autumn. Over the past three years we have noticed a significant change in attitudes to self-service as organisations struggle to deliver improved and efficient online services. In this blog we review just how the market has changed over the past three years of the Digital Self-Service in the Public Sector survey.


A slower than expected pace of change

Back in 2015, when this survey first began, the responses from participants were ambitious. It was clear that Public Sector organisations wanted to move the vast majority of their services online quickly and with ease. Skip forward three years and it is fair to say that whilst organisations have made some progress with their self-service strategies, the pace of change hasn't necessarily lived up to original expectations.

When asked "Do you have a self-service strategy?" responses each year have remained largely the same. In 2015 56% of participants answered they did have a self-service strategy, with just under half (44%) stating that they didn't. In 2017 not much has changed, with only a 4% increase in those with a self-service strategy. Quite a worrying statistic considering the Public Sector as a whole has been trying to move services online in a bid to reduce operational costs since the turn of the decade 8 years ago.


Throughout the course of the last three years of this survey there have been a multitude of reasons given as to why self-service adoption has been sluggish. However, looking at the most recent survey in 2017 there are two key factors that stand out from the rest.  When asked "What are the biggest barriers to implementing self-service in your organisation?" the capability of legacy systems and a lack of resources were cited as two of the biggest obstacles.

With this in mind it has become clear just how complex delivering self-service actually can be, and it's understandable why, when faced with so many hurdles, some organisations still haven't managed to implement a strategy of their own. However, our surveys results now indicate a change of tact when it comes to overcoming the slow pace of progress.  What was once a revolutionary 'big-bang' vision to self-service implementation has quickly morphed into an evolutionary approach to moving services online gradually.


Evolution over revolution

With a decline in the 'revolutionary' approach, organisations now appear to be favouring a more 'evolutionary' method where the process of digitally transforming services happens one service at a time. With an evolutionary approach making online service delivery more achievable by means of breaking down it down into smaller more manageable chunks, this approach also enables the Public Sector to demonstrate just how effective each online service is at delivering cost savings. In turn this is helping organisations to demonstrate proof of self-service delivery success at a quicker rate, which ultimately is serving to gain further internal backing to transform additional services.

The idea that the Public Sector is taking a more evolutionary approach is further evidenced by the number of services already online.  When asked "What percentage of services does your organisation currently deliver online through self-service?", responses consistently indicated that between 6% and 24% were delivered in this way. Participants were also asked each year "What percentage of services do you believe your organisation will be delivering in 3 years' time through self-service?". It is here that we have seen the biggest inconsistency between participants' expectations from self-service and what is actually being delivered. In 2015 65% of participants believed that in three years' time 50% to 99% of their organisation's services would be delivered online through self-service. However, the reality is that three years on, only 7% of participants are delivering 50% to 99% of their organisation's services online via self-service. With the majority of participants still only delivering up to 24% in this way.

Ultimately what these results have revealed is that right across the Public Sector, organisations once anticipated that by now many services would be accessible via self-service, delivering significant cost savings as a result. The impact certain barriers have had to implementing self-service such as existing legacy systems and a lack of resources are evident, providing to be core factors in inhibiting  organisations from implementing a 'big bang' styled revolutionary approach to digital transformation. In-turn organisations have been forced to scale back their ambitions in favour of a much more evolutionary approach to implementation instead.


Self-service in the organisation

It seems that with a new approach to self-service strategy delivery, comes a shift in the department responsible for its implementation. In the same way that we have seen a move away from a revolutionary approach, we are seeing a change in strategy ownership too.  When asked "What department(s) are responsible for your organisation's digital transformation?", answers from the 2015 and 2016 surveys indicated that the majority of participants believed digital transformation was championed by their Customer Services departments. Looking at last year's results this is no longer the case, participants now believe their IT department is responsible for owning and delivering digital transformation in their organisation.

Public Sector organisations now appear to understand that self-service development and implementation requires a great deal of technical input.  Self-service is no longer perceived as simply uploading a form to a website, and instead is accepted as being a far more complex and intricate process requiring expert knowledge and skilled manipulation.

Whilst the approach to, and ownership of self-service delivery has shifted, what is required in terms of technology for effective delivery has not. When asked "What is most important for successful self-service in your organisation?" two responses have remained at the top of the list of answers across each survey.  On the one hand Organisations believe that implementing responsive and accessible websites is key, and on the other they believe that adding a portal to their websites that enable customers to complete and track requests is also vital for successful self-service.

Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that across the Public Sector there are real plans afoot to begin delivering these two key ingredients. When participants were asked "Which areas/services will you be prioritising your spend on in the next 12 months?" nearly 80% of responses stated that their organisation would be prioritising their spend on a website and/or customer portal. This is a positive sign which suggests that now Public Sector organisations have changed their approach to self-service delivery there is a good chance they will move more quickly towards achieving their digital transformation goals, putting in place the proper foundations to build modern online services for citizens upon.


Moving forward...

Whilst the Public Sector now looks set to make good progress towards self-service and digital transformation in the next 12 months, this won't be without its challenges. As we already know, just under half of Public Sector organisations remain without a digital self-service strategy, and only 7% have managed to get between 50% and 90% of their services online. However, the consensus of opinion amongst respondents is that those most likely to benefit from self-service are its citizens, with over 80% of participants saying 24/7 access is the most important feature. This coupled with the Public Sectors' realisation that delivering self-service isn't as straight-forward as they initially thought shows the industry is waking up to the real complexities and challenges involved. Heading into 2019, and armed with a new evolutionary approach the Public Sector is in a very strong position to begin making real headway in moving services online across their organisations.

If you would like a copy of the current GOSS Digital Self-Service in the Public Sector Survey Report 2017-18 report, you can download it here. You may also want to check out our recent blog on how we have changed our product offering in response to these recent changes across the Public Sector here.

Since publishing this blog, the latest edition of the GOSS Digital Self-Service in the Public Sector Survey Report 2018-19 has become available. You can download your copy here.

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