Can The Government Conquer The Growing ‘Digital Divide’?

Government Online Services

According to a recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) there is severe danger of a ‘digital divide’ being created as more and more public services move online. There have been calls for the Government to take immediate action before approximately four million people in the UK are prevented from being able to access important online services.

Loss of public trust

Even for people who are connected online, barriers come up because there’s a real lack of trust in online services the Government offers. One of the key reasons for this is that the public is often unsure about what happens to their personal information when it is entered into online systems. There have also been inconsistencies around how public sector organisations plan to deliver IT solutions, many of which never actually come to fruition and if they do, they are significantly over budget.

A further reason for a lack of trust is due to previous high-profile instances of data loss. We’ve seen a number of examples of this reported in the news, with government officials exposed for leaving important information or unencrypted laptops on trains and such public places. In fact, if you take a look at the ICO’s (Information Commissioner’s Office) website, you will see a list of all the organisations that have fallen foul of the Public Records Act or Data Protection Act. These organisations face fines or prosecution if found guilty, highlighting this as a very real issue today.

The backbone of IT

In order to address the issues around this growing digital divide, a content management platform should be the backbone of government IT, the behind-the-scenes information manager. Taking an organisation’s unstructured and diverse information sources, be they in paper or email format or stored on different devices, and bringing it together into one platform, gives the ability to apply much more stringent governance and compliance rules.

Implementing this kind of platform isn’t without its obstacles. In some public sector organisations culture can play a role preventing this move from paper-based to automated processes, with some resisting new technological advancements. In addition, with vast quantities of information stored either onsite or with third party vendors, getting the paper out of some systems can prove a challenge. Three critical steps organisations tend to have difficulty with are as follows:

  • Removing this paper – the practicalities of the process
  • Transforming it into a format that can be quickly digitised and made readily available
  • Getting people to use the content management platform effectively.

The idea of moving to a content platform can raise questions about the benefit and the related cost to create this platform. However it has become clear from recent projects that costs can be mitigated within a 12 month return on investment and thereby create both a cost-effective and long-term investment.

Breaking down barriers

Fortunately these barriers are now starting to come down, making it simpler and more efficient to move to digitised services. Organisations are starting to feel the significant day-to-day benefits such a platform offers. Analysing the process can reduce steps and streamline the user experience, creating more trust for the ‘customer,’ in this case – Joe Public.

One major advantage is that it allows the public to search and retrieve relevant documents and information more easily, while protecting critical information from unauthorised access, ultimately helping to instil a greater sense of public trust. More importantly, digitising and organising the information and processes related to public services enables the Government to make faster and more informed decisions and a good intelligent capture tool can facilitate this.

From a broader perspective, the Government needs to address how it should manage the entire lifecycle of data. Managing a lifecycle of data is undoubtedly difficult when it is in paper form, moving to an electronic format makes this much easier.

Applying process and automation technology, as well as best practice to records and retention policies, can not only ensure faster response to audits but can enhance compliance with regulations by removing some manual steps and introducing a workflow that drives efficient and consistent behaviours. This will all guarantee that in the long term only the relevant information is collected and indexed automatically and that it is only stored in the correct location for the applicable amount of time as per any regulations it is governed by.

The Government needs to go to some lengths to regain the public’s trust in order to encourage use of online services. However, implementing a flexible and robust content management platform is a good start as it can enable the Government to better protect data, adhere to compliance regulations and manage information throughout its lifecycle efficiently.

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Chris Booth

Chris Booth is UK & Ireland Sales Manager at Perceptive Software and has a 20 year background in the creation and implementation of business change solutions that incorporate technology to allow organisations to automate manual processes. Chris has worked within a range of industries both public and private and was involved in some of the early UK healthcare projects to move hospitals to a paper-light environment.