The digital schooling drawback on the heart of government transformation

Two years in the past, the National Audit Workplace (NAO) report into digital change in government made fairly grim reading. It documented many seemingly intractable points authorities has experienced in making an attempt to deliver “digital” (primarily, “know-how”) initiatives on the programme degree. For instance, understanding of its aims, getting the business elements proper, tackling its vast legacy estate, constructing functionality, and so on.

In March this yr, the NAO revealed its comply with-up report, Digital transformation in government: addressing the obstacles to efficiency. While its tone is equally essential, there’s perhaps a notice of optimism.

This time, the NAO targeted on the efforts up to now of the Central Digital and Knowledge Office (CDDO), which was set up not lengthy before its July 2021 report. The NAO assessed the CDDO’s progress in making an attempt to reinvigorate a transformational narrative that had largely grow to be moribund throughout government. About time, too. 

Certainly, the NAO acknowledges that authorities’s “transformational” efforts up to now have centred largely round “creating digital front ends” – “attempts [that] have typically prioritised creating the citizen-dealing with parts of a service over tackling the more complicated underlying points posed by legacy techniques and poor knowledge high quality”. I hate to say “advised you so…

Shifting duty for government transformation from the Authorities Digital Service (GDS) – which had actually all the time been a delivery store at heart, not an engine for reworking authorities – and giving it to the brand new CDDO was an incredible concept, as was the CDDO’s roadmap, a real try and reinvigorate genuine structural digital transformation, versus citizen-centric entrance ends.

The roadmap tries to determine some helpful, if massively overdue, baselines for transformation, together with: a knowledge-gathering train (“where’s everybody at?”); a single Gov.UK login; knowledge high quality; widespread standards; tackling legacy IT; addressing expertise shortages; and management/influencing. Up to now, so good.

Nevertheless, while the NAO notes some early progress towards these goals, the watchdog concludes by stressing – yet again – that authorities lacks the talents and experience to deliver transformation at scale.

Let’s take a better take a look at this “expertise” thing. Worryingly, it appears that authorities is definitely sliding backwards on this. It claims 4% of civil servants are digital professionals, compared with between eight% and 12% business average; that there has been a 20% reduction in digital, knowledge and know-how (DDaT) apprenticeships from 800 in October 2021, right down to 637 in December 2022; and a 7% improve in government DDaT vacancies, from 3,900 in April 2022, to 4,one hundred in October 2022.

Nevertheless, the talents drawback is actually very a lot worse than said, as a result of these numbers only mirror some of the digital capabilities we’d like in government. There’s a essential difference between “tech expertise” and “enterprise experience” within the context of digital transformation.

Why does this matter? The answer is that while a shortage of DDaT expertise factors to a worrying lack of oars to row the federal government’s digital ship, there’s additionally a widespread lack of experienced digital enterprise management, which signifies that the ship itself is essentially rudderless. There’s a common lack of imaginative and prescient, understanding and clear path, about what it is that we’re making an attempt to rework into in the first place.

This drawback is partly because of a bent to conflate these two concepts, by which the capability to know the implications and opportunities of digital know-how and knowledge for a division’s function, providers, construction and partnerships is usually lumped along with technical skillsets, like for a cloud engineer or a scrum master. 

I am reliably knowledgeable that the CDDO digital schooling offering at permanent secretary degree within the civil service is about knowledge requirements, agile teamwork, infrastructure, consumer-centric design, and comparable ideas. Whereas these are undoubtedly essential for everlasting secretaries to know, that is “training” relatively than “schooling”. A crash course in GDS DDaT practices emphatically doesn’t equip our leaders to direct the novel, digitally-enabled reshaping of our public providers that we require.

I might not dream of basing my MBA Digital Enterprise class at Exeter solely round technical skillsets (though we do cover them), since to give attention to these alone can be failing to equip my college students to steer within the digital period. 

So why does government proceed to fail to offer an honest digital business schooling to these we call upon to form our complicated public service panorama for an more and more digital future?

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