Digital strategies could learn a lot from Winston Churchill’s famous 1940 plea for brevity. In this spirit, I have decided to try to distill our MoJ digital strategy down into one short blog post.
Firstly, a note on what our strategy is not. As my former colleague Emma Stace used regularly to point out, digital transformation is not about blockchain, “robotic process automation”, or going paperless. Digital transformation is designing services based on user needs, making it easier for the citizen to do what they need to do, and cheaper for the government to provide their services. What might uncharitably be called hype tech has its place, but not until everything works.
Our MoJ digital strategy falls into three categories of delivery, each of which is supported by a fourth.
1. Fix the basics
We have 70,000+ employees working in more than 1,000 buildings across the UK. Our users need fast, modern technology they can rely on so they can do their important work. The WiFi has to work, the laptops should boot up quickly, and the line of business systems need to be available all the time. We also need our technology to be patched, supported, secure and should comply with the very sensible GDPR rules around data retention.
2. Make things more efficient (aka digital 101)
In the private sector, a Chief Digital Officer’s mission is often straight-forward: reduce the organisation’s headcount and real-estate footprint by automating basic tasks. In government, we are not that different: we should address the sometimes astonishing level of inefficient manual and paper based processes we have in place and use well designed software to automate where we can. In the past 12 months, MoJ staff have printed an estimated 757 million pages of paper. Aside from the environmental impact, these paper-based processes are inefficient, labour intensive, and boring for staff. This work will free up thousands of smart, well trained civil servants to do work higher up on the value chain: spending time with offenders, or dealing with the most challenging case work applications.
A commercial Chief Digital Officer would also be tasked with ensuring their services are available to a digital-first customer base. Again, we are no different in MoJ: despite some amazing work over the past few years, 50% of our public facing services remain PDFs or Word docs that the user has to download, print, and post or fax in. This is simply not good enough, and part of our mission is to move these online as quickly as possible. A side effect of this will be to reduce the tonnes of paper that are sent into us each year.
3. Whole system thinking: end-to-end service and policy design
This is, for me, what digital transformation really means. If we only do steps one and two, we will end up with a cheaper, more efficient organisation with exactly the same outcomes. We will be Blockbuster with efficient self-service VCR rental stores, missing that no-one wants to consume content that way anymore. In our world, this means designing services where the needs of the user and the policy outcome are well understood before anything else is attempted. It means looking outside of the silo of our own department and connecting our data right across the government to provide a holistic and seamless service to the user.
This work includes helping people to get access to the right legal support when they have a complex life problem. Simply building a support portal won’t work as we need to first understand that people don’t categorise their life problems according to different categories of law, and it often cuts across several areas. Or helping victims to get the support and compensation they need from the state. These users are at their most vulnerable, and we should not expect them to understand how government is structured to get the help they need.
To achieve these three strategic objectives, we have to work in close partnership with other functions, including Commercial and Finance, otherwise, we will quickly be blocked by governance and processes designed for an analogue age. Most importantly though, we will get nothing done without focusing hard on our people, and this is our fourth strategic objective:
4. Build diverse, inclusive, brilliant teams
We want to build a deeply skilled digital and technology team and will achieve this by establishing strong digital professions based on the Government Digital Service (GDS) Digital, Data and Technology capability framework, and ensuring that our civil servants have clear development paths. In the past 12 months, we have hired 150 new civil servants, and have much more to do.
Equally importantly, we are making sure that we recruit a group of people who properly represent the fantastically diverse nature of our society. We cannot hope to build digital services for the most vulnerable people in society if we are all middle-class cis white men. I blogged about this a while back, so do have a read if you’re interested.
There is so much more I could include about what we are doing over the next few years. Hopefully, though this sheds some light on our ambition and strategy to transform the justice system.