Some takeaways from the National Digital Conference 2021

Some takeaways from the National Digital Conference 2021

Leaders from businesses, public bodies and third sector organisations gathered last week (virtually, of course) for the 16th National Digital Conference. I had the opportunity join the event and wanted to share some of the takeaways that resonated with me.

The future for Government services is bright (according to Tom Read)

Digital is an enabler; it allows us to create better systems. In complex organisations, like the NHS or higher education, technological developments often have to contend with quite rigid, legacy infrastructure and organisational structures.  This makes the user experience poor in many instances.

If I can personalise this for a moment.  As a student, I have to apply each year for a student loan.  I have to input personal information, which the passport office already has access to. I then have to input my income, which HMRC already have access too. Then my parents have to submit their incomes and supporting evidence, which the again HMRC already has access to. Contrast that to creating a bank account with Monzo where it takes minutes to register for an account and it becomes apparent how far behind the public sector is.

Thinking about Government as a Service, Tom Read, CEO and Director-General of the Government Digital Service described his vision for interacting with any Government department. For those who want it - with one click - any form can be auto-populated with data that the Government already holds. In theory, this sounds amazing - taking data that is already available and making your experience better. 

Tom’s clear vision for the transformation of services and experiences was great for me to hear. It gives me hope that one day, my student loans experience will be a thing of the past!

If you build it, will they come?

We all know that change is uncomfortable and, in organisations, implementing change is also challenging.  It is where the vision for what a product or service could be collides with the reality of what exists at present.

According to Niamh McKenna, the chief information officer for NHS Resolution the body which resolves disputes for the NHS, getting people to use new technology solutions or services can be difficult. For the most part, people like certainty and develop patterns of behaviour that they struggle to change. It is therefore important that we make adoption both quick and easy. In doing so, the perceived value of change moves from theoretical and distant to tangible and achievable. It also reinforces that change can be good for the organisation as a whole and the individuals within it, driving engagement and building confidence in the change process.

As I was listening to Pamela Dow, the executive director of the Government Curriculum and Skills unit, I started to think of organisations as humans. A human is made up of its different systems - digestive, circulatory and respiratory - but we don’t think of them as distinct.  They all communicate with each other down to the level of an individual cell. It is this communication that allows our heart rate to increase or our hairs to stand on end. Communication between our bodily systems enables us to react to a changing environment, much like how digital solutions enable organisations to react with agility. 

Systems and processes control how information is passed around an organisation. Previously, this transfer was limited by the human as we can only process and create information at a fixed speed. As organisations grew, they became siloed to filter the most important information upwards to key decision makers. When deploying tech systems into siloed organisations, if each department is left to its own devices, it creates its own standards, procedures and infrastructure. As we engage more with big data and the internet of things, communication and data has to flow across departments to create better user experiences and help companies make better decisions on a day to day basis, but this is simply not possible without breaking the siloed view of an organisation.

Although it may be frustrating as a user at times, I recognise that the important thing is understanding the subtleties involved in changing complex organisational systems.  When do we listen?  When do we engage?  When do we push hard? When do we back off and let things settle?  It is not about creating sustainable change but about creating sustainable capability to design, deliver and embrace change.

If you missed it, you can catch some of the speakers here - Replays - Digital Leaders Week® 2021 by Digital Leaders Week® (

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Alex Walters

Consulting Intern

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