Digital is not about tech, it’s about culture

Lee Waters AM introduces the work of a new Welsh Government panel on Digital Transformation, and invites views

So, it started off a bit awkwardly as I was the only one at the meeting who had printed out my papers. Not great when you’ve been asked to Chair a Panel on Digital Transformation for the Welsh Government. Everyone else was very good, they had laptops and tablets.


I’m not a techie. If it makes things easier I’ll use it, but I’m not an early adopter. For me the digital agenda is about improving the way public services can be used and accessed, and to free up resources from process to be put to use to help people. Crucially its about culture and changing the way we work.


But as the authors of a book on how the UK Government went about creating the GDS – the Government Digital Service that streamlined all central Government websites and created the .Gov project – said “The practical steps to creating a digital organisation are not complicated. They are just hard”.


One leaf out of that book I definitely want to take is to be open as we carry out the work of the Digital Transformation Panel. So I’ll be blogging on what we discuss and inviting people to make suggestions. There’s nothing secret that we’re looking at so why not just put the whole thing out there and let people know what our thinking is?


The panel is led by me and I’ll be reporting to Digital Minister Julie James, along with Health Secretary Vaughan Gething and Public Services Minister Alun Davies. I want to keep the membership quite small, and we’re all busy people so we won’t be having long, endless meetings for the sake of it. It’s my intention that we’ll produce an initial piece of work by December so that the incoming First Minister will have it near the top of their in-tray. The immediate focus will be on making high level recommendations on what needs to change initially.


I’ve been asked to look at the digital landscape right across health, education, local Government, Welsh Government and its sponsored bodies. I’m fortunate to have the help of Paul Mathews, the Chief Executive of Monmouthshire Council; GP Anne Marie Cunningham; Consultant Neurologist. and Chair of the NHS Wales Technical Standards Board Mark WardleVictoria Ford, a former Head of Comms for the DVLA and who was part of the team at the GDS, and Dominic Campbell who is currently interim Chief Digital Officer at Homes England and CEO of FutureGov. We’ll be recruiting one other member shortly and I’ll tweet as soon as her appointment is confirmed.


The terms of reference are deliberately broad, “To provide external advice and challenge on transforming public services through better use of digital, and to come up with recommendations to help shape the next steps”.


I’ve been meeting some of the key people within the Welsh Government and have a series of other meetings lined up. There’s already a lot out there on the state of digital in Wales, not least David Jones’ review of local government in Wales, the SOCITM report on digital maturity, the digital chapter in A Healthier Wales: our Plan for Health and Social Care, the Welsh Language Technology Action Plan and the forthcoming Senedd PAC report on the NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS).


Based on my initial meetings with NWIS, the Welsh Government’s Chief Technology Officer and officials leading on digital and health innovation here are some thoughts and observations I’ve shared with the panel for discussion, and I’d be interested in your views.


1. Project start-up is a problem

NWIS report that is takes 18 months to get everyone on board to support a new project, and a further 18 months to marshall the finance from different funding pots. After 3 years nothing has actually happened, and in the meantime the tech has moved apace. How can we improve the start-up phase?


2. “The power is where the money is”

Welsh Government have emulated the GDS approach of requiring central sign off of any project valued at more than £2k for all internal projects from the office of the Chief Digital Officer Caren Fullerton. This is not the case in local government or the NHS. Should there be a tightly controlled central pot for digital innovation?


3. Suppliers can be a barrier

NWIS say the dominance of the market by a small number of suppliers can be a block to reform. If a vendor decides they don’t wish to modify the approach they are selling elsewhere the Welsh NHS doesn’t have many other options. Are we too reliant on private providers? Should we be doing more in-house?


4. Take the emotion out of it

Should we start with projects that apply to a common set of services that are the same regardless of where you are? A regulated service is not emotional. For example Council tax is the same in every local authority. Routine services like the system for administering parking charges, reordering bin bags, library returns may be fertile ground too. What we come up with must help the organisation we want to work with us solve their problems.


5. Look for leverage

What hard deadlines are there out there we can capitalise on to act as a catalyst? Microsoft are stopping support for Windows in January 2020, any support after that date will ratchet up in price. Is that an opportunity? Similarly cybersecurity threats are too big for individual organisations to tackle alone, can an offer of a collective approach help encourage co-operation?


6. Be bold

Would setting a deadline of having no paper by 2025 force a change of thinking and pace?


There are many more questions clearly, but I want to write blogs not essays. Lets start with that and I’ll keep you posted.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Lee Waters is AM for Llanelli

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