The UK government sector is standing on the verge of the unknown. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic and political outcomes of Brexit remains to be seen, but change is a certainty. Government departments will need to respond quickly and decisively. But they will have a chance to innovate as this new phase in the nation’s history emerges.
Digital transformation can help government become more agile and respond more quickly to emerging trends and future crises. The response to the pandemic has already shown how government departments can harness data and analytics to collaborate and coordinate more effectively and implement policies faster.
Going forward, there is huge potential for technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to transform the way government operates and meet new challenges. At the same time, it’s also vital to ensure that departments adopt these technologies responsibly and maintain strong governance.
Learning from history
From an economic perspective, the 2008 global financial crisis bears certain similarities to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that COVID-19 has led to an even steeper fall and deeper drop in GDP than we saw in 2008. It took approximately four years for the economy to return to pre-crisis levels between 2009 and 2013. And it would be reasonable to expect a similarly lengthy period of recovery after COVID.
The uncertain impact of Brexit may either accelerate or slow the rate of recovery, depending on how it affects the UK’s competitiveness in global markets. Either way, it would be prudent to plan for a prolonged period of tough economic conditions that will impact the whole of UK society. And, therefore, create new challenges for every ministry, department and agency throughout the government sector.
Economic hardship creates social issues
For example, we can expect many businesses, both large and small, to fold under the pressure of operating in difficult conditions. The retail, hospitality and entertainment sectors are particularly exposed. And as some of the country’s largest employers, their vulnerability puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.
When businesses fail or tighten their belts, unemployment rises. This puts pressure on the benefits system and sows the seeds of deeper problems, from drug and alcohol misuse and mental health issues to political and social unrest, as well as tax and benefits fraud, identity theft and financial crime.
Combating these issues is not just a problem for the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to solve. It requires decisive, coordinated effort and sound decision making by every department, from the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care to the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education.
How COVID-19 made government more agile
Fortunately, UK government is in a better position to weather the storm now than it was in early 2020. The absolute necessity of responding quickly to the COVID-19 crisis forced government departments not only to deliver change much faster than ever before but also to collaborate and coordinate with each other much more effectively. While the circumstances have been exceptional, the crisis has proven that it is possible to design and implement policies and processes within days, not months or years. And the lessons in agility taught by necessity can now be applied to business as usual.
For example, in the early days of the pandemic, DWP was coordinating the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals, but a shortage of lorry drivers created a backlog. By working closely with the DVLA, the DWP team identified and validated more drivers and got deliveries back on the road. Similarly, DWP worked with the NHS to identify people over 70 who were more vulnerable to COVID-19. Opening up data between departments made it possible to solve these problems more quickly and easily.
Senior civil servants have spoken about the importance of “ruthless simplicity” in delivering these outcomes so rapidly. Instead of allowing the number of requirements to multiply and make the solution too complex to deliver, they took a more agile approach, focusing on how the core outcome could be delivered as quickly and effectively as possible.
Digital transformation with strong governance
However, we should be cautious. Putting new policies into practice as quickly as possible is an important milestone, but it can’t be the end goal. While stripping down the requirements to a bare minimum may be the best option in an emergency, it’s vital to iterate on that initial delivery to ensure it’s fit for purpose in the longer term. Removing red tape is one thing. Removing important safeguards and weakening governance is quite another.
That’s why these new ways of working need to be backed up by digital transformation that not only slims down processes but also captures data and provides AI and analytics solutions to the UK government. With an advanced analytics-driven approach, government departments can eliminate many stages of manual processing and multiple layers of approvals safely while maintaining strong governance and end-to-end transparency.
This is an approach that SAS calls “intelligent decisioning”: automating the routine steps of processes, analysing the results in real time to detect anomalies, and bringing human decision makers into the loop to handle exceptional cases – whether that’s fraud detection to investigate potential benefits fraud at the DWP, handling complex immigration cases at the Home Office, countering cyberthreats at the MoD, or any number of similar use cases across other departments.
By taking an AI and analytics-based approach to intelligent decisions, government can augment its existing IT systems with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling the delivery of more personalised services to support citizens of all ages, abilities and demographics.
The result is simpler, faster, more transparent processes that help to reduce pressure on critical services, enable smarter fraud prevention and keep the nation safe while we navigate the economic struggles and political uncertainties of the coming years.
If you’d like to learn more about how SAS is already helping government departments embrace intelligent decisioning, and how we could help your team achieve its digital transformation goals, visit our AI and Analytics for Government pages and reach out to our UK public sector experts today.