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‘Digitizing Government’ requires more than technology

New book co-authored by Mark Thompson calls for ‘revolution’ in design of public services.

‘Digitizing Government’ requires more than technology
Digital technology will deliver better government services only through “cultural, capability and leadership” improvements because technology alone won’t produce the necessary changes, says a new book co-authored by Mark Thompson, University Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at Cambridge Judge Business School.

The new book – Digitizing Government: Understanding and implementing new digital business models – says that a variety of “online” initiatives over the past two decades have largely failed to improve government services.

“This time, delivery and execution must be on a much broader front than technology alone,” says the book, published the first week in December by Palgrave MacMillan, and authored by Alan W. Brown, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Surrey Business School; Jerry Fishenden, who has 25 years experience in the technology sector including as chief technology officer for Microsoft UK; and Thompson, an architect of the UK government’s shift towards open systems who has written extensively on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) issues.

The book will be launched with two events in London on 3 December, including a debate at techUK, the technology trade association, where Thompson will deliver the keynote address, and an evening event that includes Chi Onwurah, the Labour Party’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, chaired by Government Chief Technology Officer Liam Maxwell.

Thompson says:

We decided to write this book because the business model of government is broken.

“In the future, public services around the world will need to be delivered in ways that centre around citizens, not bureaucrats – and for much less money. There is an urgent need for new, practical thinking and leadership about how a digital business model can underpin better services for everyone”

Book - Digitizing government: understanding and implementing new digital business models.

New book co-authored by Dr Mark Thompson.

Most citizens enjoy on a daily basis improvements to their lives delivered by the private sector, including time-saving consumer devices. In the government sector, however, “There continues to be a widespread lack of understanding of how digital models of public service design can deliver agile, easy-to-use, consumerised services at lower cost and in a way that emulates our daily experiences in the best of the private sector,” the book argues.

That can be traced in part, the authors say, to a historic “mismatch between political aspiration and any meaningful and sustained technical delivery approach on the ground” – despite the fact that Britain has led the way in some areas, including the promotion of open standards.

So what is to be done?

The authors argue that there is an “urgent need to build a common view of what the transition to digital public service delivery actually involves. Digital thinking, and its associated technologies, needs to impact and influence the design and operation of public services as they are being contemplated, developed and evolved, rather than being applied merely as a means of automating old processes from the world that has passed.”