UK civil servants highlight barriers to digital transformation in government

By Richard Johnstone, Global Government Forum

Officials in the UK government have named legacy technology, budget constraints and a lack of training as the top barriers to transforming government services in exclusive Global Government Forum research.

The UK Civil Service Digital Skills Report found that half of officials name legacy technology that is no longer fit for purpose (50%), and budget constraints/lack of funding (50%) as the top issues when asked what is significantly holding them back from using digital to improve public services.

Other significant factors highlighted by the 1,006 respondents to the survey included a lack of fit-for-purpose civil service funded training opportunities, and a lack of knowledge at the strategic level in government.

These factors were shared across different groups of respondents in the survey, which covered those working in the senior civil service, those who are members of the digital, data and technology (DDaT) and IT professions in government, and those working on digital transformation projects.

Indeed, the officials who work on digital transformation projects felt the problem particularly acutely, with higher proportions raising the top issues. Nearly two-thirds (63%) raise legacy technology as an issue, followed by 61% who say that budget constraints/lack of funding is. Half of those working on transformation programmes also say that a lack of skills is a problem in that they are unable to hire qualified talent (50%).

The survey, which was supported by Google Cloud, also asked civil servants to rate their own digital skills. The highest area of skill rating was in collaborating remotely in realtime with colleagues, where 95% of officials said that they had at least intermediate skills, the highest individual skill rating in the survey.

Other areas where civil servants report strong skills include accessing and analysing data in spreadsheets, where four out of five (83%) say they have at least intermediate skills – rising to 86% among senior officials, 92% of those working on digital transformation projects, and 94% of DDaT and IT professionals.

A similarly large proportion of officials overall (84%) say they have at least intermediate skills in data compliance and security – a vital skill that holds the key to the public’s trust in the work of government – a proportion which again rises for senior officials (84%), those working on digital transformation projects (90%), and DDaT and IT professionals (95%).

However, the ratings declined in other key areas of modern public service delivery such as data access and analysis, or use of cloud infrastructure.

For example, over a third of respondents say they have very few or no skills or knowledge in how artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation can be deployed to improve public service delivery (37%) and implementing, deploying, migrating, and/or maintaining applications on cloud infrastructure (39%). In both cases this is a higher proportion than those who say they have intermediate, advanced or highly specialised knowledge in these areas, which was 30% of respondents for both of these important areas.

The report also found that civil servants are keen to develop their digital skills, with over three-quarters (78%) of civil servants stating that they would like to receive more digital skills training. However, nearly one in five (19%) report they have not received internal or external training within the last two years.

Adam Stewart, the head of public sector, UK&I at Google Cloud, said the report demonstrated “the growing appetite for digital skills training across both technical and non-technical professions”.

He added: “Whilst we set about meeting these complex and ambitious goals, it is also very important to recognise the skills and innovation that currently exist. From the acceleration of digital transformation necessitated by the pandemic, to leading transformation initiatives such as delivering the UK’s first digital-first census, pockets of brilliance are easy to identify, and have set the bar high.

“We want to support government to create a standard that all are able to access and achieve, and build a programme of skills development, training and career opportunities for all civil servants.”

Read the full report HERE