Digital is everywhere

David Jones calls on policy makers to grasp that digital can revolutionise public services in Wales.

A few years ago Lance Armstrong published his autobiography called “It’s not about the bike”. History, of course, has proved that statement to be all-too-true, as his fall from grace showed.

But that accidentally ironic title could be re-worded as “it’s not about the Camera” when we look at the astonishing 93% reduction in reported complaints against the police in the recent survey – The author of the report, Barak Ariel from Cambridge University said

“I cannot think of any [other] single intervention in the history of policing that dramatically changed the way that officers behave, the way that suspects behave, and the way they interact with each other.”

The purpose of the introduction of police cameras was to gather evidence. A few years ago police relied on notebooks and stubby pencils, but now that’s all been replaced by technology. And it’s been a long-time coming.

The requirements to enable body worn camera include battery-life, image quality, storage capacity, miniaturisation of the electronics, reliability and capacity of the download process and so much more.

Each of those features was critical to making the behaviour change that was reported this week, and that’s the hidden point about today’s technology – When all of the parts fall into place there’s a big leap and that changes behaviour.

So now that it is proven how effective and cheap this project has been, you would expect many other public services to be scrambling to apply the same technology, after all, if a cheap camera can impact the behaviour of both police and public – What could happen when if we look at the Welsh classroom or GP surgery?

Another example is the DVLA tax disc renewal – That required both the technology systems to be built as well as the penetration of internet access, plus a different method of enforcement.

Like the Police Cameras, no political party named these technology changes in their manifestos, rather they were implemented without fanfare and with remarkably few teething problems slipped almost unnoticed into daily life.

And here’s another one – via GOV.UK, and launched just 7 months ago, it’s now possible to check your State Pension online. Given that this service is likely to be of interest only to those people getting slightly older, the take-up of this on-line service compared to the alternative of making telephone might have been ambitious at 50%, but it’s now running at 97% (yes, really).

As with the police complaints, it’s not about the camera, or the tax-disc or the pension – The key point is that digital is everywhere.

Lastly, just a few days ago the Ministry of Justice announced an investment of £1Bn in digital technology. This was a result of last January’s Leveson Review of efficiency in Criminal Proceedings. 67-year old Leveson dived straight-in with 6 specific recommendations on IT changes, many based on using video as a medium to present evidence in court. And for Liz Truss with less than 2-months as Lord Chancellor, it was her first major announcement – Another example of digital sitting at the centre of spending and strategy with the UK Government.

From cameras to court-rooms, the challenge now for policy-makers and lobby-groups is not to look for the single device or the key project, but rather to grasp that digital is moving and shaking the foundations of public service in the same way that it has disrupted companies from Blockbuster to Woolworths.

One last thought – The more politically acute reader will have spotted a common thread linking the digital initiatives here – From the Police, to Justice Ministry, to DVLA to DWP / Pensions – All these four are examples from the UK’s non-devolved government departments, although one, the DVLA’s tax disc project, was built in Swansea.

At some point soon this widening gap of digital commitment between the Welsh and English Government needs to start closing.

David Jones is a Public Services Digital Consultant.

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