Management > Skills

Agilisys report finds digital skills challenge at heart of public service transformation

Neil Merrett Published 14 June 2017

New findings suggest that growing push towards digital delivery of public services is being hampered by skill shortages both in-house and among the broader public


A lack of digital skills both in local government and among the wider public is hampering efforts to push forward with transforming public service delivery and realising any potential benefits for under pressure local authorities, according to a new report by Agilisys.

Among the conclusions of the company’s ‘The State of the Digital Nation’ report , a digital skills gap was seen as a vital challenge to be addressed by both industry and government to offset budgetary and operational pressures to transform their operations.

“Beyond the ability to access and use online government services, the digital skills gap represents a major missed opportunity for the UK,” said the findings. “A 2016-17 parliamentary committee reported that the digital skills gap is costing the economy an estimated £63bn a year in lost additional GDP.”

In pulling together the report, Agilisys surveyed 463 organisations to look at the challenges and opportunities facing the public sector at local government level, with 40% of respondents claiming to have a “clear vision” for digital transformation and already be providing online services.

Of the same survey group, 3% were found to have not started their digital transformation. Yet at the same time, 57% of the organisations surveyed believed there were significant opportunities to do more, despite claiming to have made “good progress” with existing efforts.

In total, 65% of organisations surveyed considered digital transformation to be one of their top priorities. In total, 13% of organisations participating in the report argued that it was their utmost priority at present.

Among key barriers to further digital transformation, there was particular concern about a section of public sector workers lacking the skills needed to realise an organisation's transformation aims.

The report cited a National Audit Office (NAO) study into the digital skills gaps that saw respondents identifying concerns around technical skills and their ability to implement change.

“When asked to select the three biggest barriers to the delivery of digital services, lack of resources was the most popular response, with 39% of organisations citing it as a barrier,” said Agilisys in its report. “Legacy systems, lack of budget and lack of in-house skills were all equally ranked (36%) as barriers to achieving successful transformation.”

The Agilisys study said respondents largely believed they had some of the necessary skills in their organisation to deliver their respective transformation aims, with 60% believing they were partially prepared to undergo whatever cultural and behavioural changes were required.

Yet 59% of participants in the survey anticipated a reluctance within their own staff to take up new digital ways of working. At the same time, just under half of respondents saw there was a present unwillingness in users to make sense of digital and self service functions.

“Well designed, easy to use services that reduce time and effort to access services and interact, will be adopted more readily by customers,” said the survey. “Recognising this, 91% of respondents said that digital transformation to improve service delivery and customer service was important to their organisation and 13% said it was their top organisational priority.”

Digital exclusion fears

Despite planned infrastructure investment by the government to further expand access to the internet and higher speed broadband connectivity, the report cited Office for National Statistics (ONS) findings from last year showing that there were five million people in the UK who had never used the internet.

Agilisys noted particular concern about the potential societal impacts of digital exclusion that could limit access to key public services.

“There is a correlation between digital exclusion and vulnerable, hard to reach and disadvantaged groups, such as older people, those in social housing, those with disabilities and the unemployed,” noted the report. “The ONS found that a quarter of disabled adults in the UK had never used the internet, and a survey by the BBC found that over 69% of people who lack basic digital skills are over 55.”

However, one respondent to the survey questioned the current national approaches to try and tackle digital exclusion.

“The wide range of support services, skills programmes and initiatives have not managed to help everyone go online. Isolated and disjointed initiatives to combat digital exclusion have not made the most of our combined efforts and expertise,” said the respondent

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