Digital Transformation in the Public Sector – What can we Learn from the UK and Sweden / by Christoffer Andersson

Digital transformation is viewed as a key modernizing force in both the public and private sectors and digital technologies are considered a key to efficiencies, competitiveness and innovation and transforming business operations, products/services, processes, organisational structures and management concepts.

Researchers have already established that organizational structures are related to the technologies employed by them. Moreover, there is a close relationship between technology, organisations and institutions. We compared the government approach to digital transformation in Sweden and the UK. We wanted to determine the focus of the transformation and the direction of the digital transformation – top-down or bottom up.

Why did we decide to compare Sweden and the UK?

The eGovernment Benchmark 2016 Insight report measured that the two countries are at different eGovernment maturity performance level which is determined by taking into account two indicators:

■ Penetration - the usage of online eGovernment services;

■ Digitisation - a public administration’s efficiency and effectiveness in internal procedures.

 Here are the differences between the two national contexts according to that report:

Sweden

Sweden is one of the leading nations in e-Government together with the other Nordic countries. Sweden is characterised by high penetration and digitisation of services. It is an exemplar of a successful process of innovation enabling the exploitation of opportunities offered by ICT. Sweden belongs to the 'Group 5' cluster together with other high income countries with small populations - highly educated and very much inclined to use banking services and e-commerce; well-developed infrastructures; high level of centralisation of services; and low perceived levels of public sector corruption.

UK

The UK is characterised by a high level of penetration in terms of internet use but a low-level of digitisation – automated services. According to the report above the UK is something of a laggard, it appears in group 2 together with other countries with the largest and aging populations with only European Union average level of education, infrastructure maturity and take-up of internet. Sweden, during the research period (2010-2017) was located in the progressive (for e-Government) cluster in 2012/2013 and had moved to the mature cluster in 2014/2015. Whereas the UK has not made any progress in terms of eGovernment maturity performance.

Our research explored the way digital transformation was planned and organised in the UK and Swedish governments. The comparative study led to some very interesting insights in terms of how the transformation was approached, the strategic intent and the related tasks, roles and structures planned by the two governments.

We found that the focus of digital transformation in 2012 was different in the UK and Sweden. Sweden’s digital transformation focused on internal processes and operations (back-end transformation) rather than on front-end transformation – services as in the UK. That was not a surprise considering the different level of e-Governement maturity.

As the digital transformation journey began late in the UK we could identify two distinct phases following one another. Phase 1 in 2012 focused on digital service re-design. The macro-drivers for this digital transformation were catching up with the private sector, increasing digital maturity (EU framework) and developing a service culture. New institutional arrangements, the establishment of the Government Digital Service, lead to change in roles and skills which then enabled the digitisation of services. Phase 2 in 2017 focused on transforming back-end operations and internal processes, bottom-up (digital technology and services have affected organisational structure, roles and skills). Therefore the alignment of technology and organisational structure is a process driven by macro and micro- forces.

In the Swedish context digital transformation of services was mostly completed prior to the issue of the 2012 strategy. The higher level of maturity of digital government was reflected in the focus on processes and coordination at that time. The emphasis was on the bottom-up direction of digital transformation. Organisational structures emerged as a result of micro drivers - technology.

Looking at the Digital strategies of the two countries has enabled us to conclude that higher level of digital maturity is demonstrated in the dominance of micro-drivers for digital transformation. eGovernement maturity is underpinned by popularity of bottom-up processes of digital transformation and technology being the main drivers of technology and organisational structure alignment in digital transformation of the public sector. These insights can assist managers in planning, assessment and evaluation of digital transformation programmes.

 Irina Popova, Research Fellow, UK

Based on a paper submitted to the 18th European Conference on Digital Government, 25th - 26th October 2018, Spain