Chair’s Blog – July 2021

I’m delighted to be writing my first blog post as the new Chair of the Centre for Digital Public Services.  

For me the term “digital” represents much more than technology and computers. My interest in digital transformation stems from an earlier involvement in delivering strategic technology projects within the manufacturing sector, on a global scale. In my experience, we often focus on the technology itself, because its new, shiny, and often complex, but digital transformation is very much a people business. 

A photo of our chair, Jessica Leigh-Jones.

Lessons from manufacturing

I often think back to the first collaborative robot (“cobot”) that I helped to introduce into a manufacturing assembly line. It was worrying for many of the staff who had understandably assumed that the robot would replace them. For the engineers who battled with both technical complexity and resistance from the operation, the project felt like an uphill struggle. The mantra that “it would never work” began to circulate throughout the operation. 

About halfway through the project, we realised we had missed a trick. Instead of imposing new technology on an experienced workforce, we should engage them in the development process, incorporating their needs and experience into the design.

We immediately moved the cobot onto the shopfloor and continued the development in the presence of those staff, who were invited to get involved and ask questions. In turn, we received insightful feedback that helped us to fine-tune the cobot for its new role. 

A basic training programme was rolled out for all staff to learn how to work with their new digital counterpart. Thinking ahead about maintenance and upgrade requirements, we created an upskilling programme that provided new progression pathways for any staff wanting to become technicians and engineers. 

Within a few weeks of implementation, the cobot became affectionately known as ‘Eric’. The relationship between the engineers and the operational staff outlived the transformation project, working together to continually improve the new systems of work.

This story always reminds me that technology can be a fantastic enabler for human relationships, creativity, and collaboration. The key message being that your people are your greatest asset, especially when it comes to digital transformation.

Delivering Digital Public Services in Wales

The Centre for Digital Public Services was established little over a year ago. Since then, the Centre has successfully completed its Alpha phase, which included the delivery of its first digital squad, working in partnership with three local authorities, an Introduction to Digital to over 500 leaders across the Welsh public sector, monthly knowledge sharing sessions and the creation of communities of practice, the first being building bilingual services. The publication of the Digital Strategy for Wales in March 2021 provided further impetus to continue and expand the work of the Centre, which has now moved into its Beta phase.  

Over the next twelve months, the Centre will strengthen its delivery through continuing its first squad looking at accessing the front door of adult social care and other exciting delivery work that will demonstrate the value of designing user led services in an agile way. In addition, the Centre will coordinate a skills and capability programme, that ensures we have the right digital skills and capability in the public sector and, working with higher education, Universities, and other sectors, create a pipeline of digital talent in Wales. A focus on standards development will support adoption of digital across public services in Wales, which from my own experience, is an essential but often overlooked aspect of digital transformation.

As a proud Welsh person, living in the beautiful Welsh countryside, I am excited by the work underway to transform our public services – from the public transport that connects us, to the NHS that cares for us, the blue light services that protect our communities, and everything in between. As a systems engineer by profession, I cannot help but envision a seamless experience for all users of public services across all communities in Wales, underpinned by a connected digital infrastructure. 

I am looking forward to working with Welsh Government, public service providers, and our staff at CDPS to translate the Digital Strategy into a programme of work that delivers upon the six key missions: services, inclusion, skills, economy, connectivity, and collaboration. I am truly optimistic for the impact of this digital transformation agenda, and the work of the Centre, on the people of Wales.

Jessica Leigh Jones MBE

Chair Centre for Digital Public Services (CDPS)

Twitter: @jessleighjones1

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