7 practical challenges for digital services

From forms to procurement, CDPS’s Landscape Review has whittled down the priorities for public service transformation in Wales

18 July 2022

Old-fashioned, technology-focused approaches can leave patients or clinicians out of the process © Unsplash

Public services in Wales – or, more precisely, the users of public services in Wales – have much to gain from digital development. The aim of CDPS’s Digital Landscape Review (DLR) has been to find out where that development could have the most impact.

The DLR team used the same Agile service design stages to structure their work as CDPS would use to design a digital service itself. In the alpha, experimental stage, the team proposed 16 opportunities for improving public services in Wales.

Supporting users better

In our beta, testing phase, the team wanted to prioritise these opportunities. To do that, we considered four possible approaches:

We researched 50 organisations in Wales to see which of these approaches would have the greatest impact. As part of our research, we interviewed, for example:

The Landscape Review’s alpha phase showed that user accounts are not designed with users in mind © Pexels

Research helps to prioritise

Through our research, the DLR team whittled the original 16 opportunities from the alpha stage down to 10 issues within digital service delivery that urgently needed to be dealt with:

  1. Digital maturity in health: health and care services in Wales are often designed using conventional waterfall methods, rather than Agile service design.
  2. Procuring digital solutions: many organisations struggle to get hold of good, cost-effective digital products and services.
  3. Case management: services in Wales use lots of manual process, such as emails between teams, often making it hard for users to tell how far through a process they are.
  4. Publishing: content on websites and in services is often not produced in a user-centred way – that is, by considering what people need to know and how they process information.
  5. User accounts: user accounts are not well connected to other services or designed with users in mind.
  6. Online forms: services ask users to download and submit PDF forms rather than providing online forms.
  7. Measuring and tracking: services often do not record measures of service performance – such as how many people have made it through a service or the time it took them to complete it.
  8. Cloud re-platforming: many services are still housed on physical premises when it would be better to host them in the digital cloud.
  9. Cybersecurity: services struggle with privacy and data security.
  10. Paying citizens: there isn’t a standardised way to pay citizens directly.

Investment cases

To narrow these issues down even more, we developed an investment case for each of them. The investment case involved asking:

Weighing up investment cases allowed us to deprioritise 3 issues:

Making page templates more accessible could save £2m-£3m each year in Wales © Pexels

We recommended to the CDPS senior leadership and board that CDPS, with partners, address all remaining 7 issues in this Senedd term.

The table below shows how we made the case for each issue.

IssuePotential savings each yearAlignment with CDPS objectivesSummary of our recommendation
Digital maturity in healthHigh
HighHealth and care bodies in Wales often use an old-fashioned, technology-focused approach to digital development.
In practice, this leads to large waterfall-style projects with limited consideration of patients or clinicians in the design process and little ongoing support or refinement once the service is live.
Case managementHigh
HighServices across Wales, including 69% of local authorities, manage cases manually, often using Excel spreadsheets. This inefficient method leads to cases falling through the cracks and failure demand – users calling for updates.
Digital procurementHigh
MediumIn Wales, 66% of public sector organisations have found buying digital products and services difficult. Problems include:
– inefficient procurement processes
– service teams buying solutions that do not meet their need
– buying cloud licences and moving services to the cloud
HighPublic sector websites are less accessible and harder to use than they should be.
Improvements in this area (for example, using content design or making page templates accessible) are simple to make and relatively low-cost but could increase use of public services by thousands of people.
User accountsMedium
HighUser accounts (to prepopulate forms rather than as a ‘digital identity’) are a high priority for local authorities and health organisations.
Most local authorities are already developing their accounts or plan to do so soon. Many could benefit from user-centred design support to provide a more consistent user experience.
Online formsMedium
MediumAround 90% of Welsh organisations still use PDFs in some of their services.
Digital forms save users from having to download files, fill them in and then upload them. They reduce manual data entry and risk of error.
Measuring and trackingMedium
High50% of services in Wales do not measure the performance of their services – using Google Analytics, for example – even though it is critical to continuous improvement. Measuring performance helps services respond rapidly to problems and to identify and respond to unmet user needs.

CDPS teams are working on 2 of the issues recommended for action by the DLR:

The other 5 investment cases are still moving through the prioritisation process.

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