Richard explores the increased adoption of “digital platforms” across the public sector, and how PDMS are using this joined up, cost-effective and citizen-centric approach to successfully deliver employability services

If you’re booking a taxi on a smartphone, you expect the process to be slick and user friendly. Similarly, if you’re ordering an item of clothing online, you expect the process to be quick and seamless. However, if you’re thinking about booking a doctor’s appointment, it probably won’t occur to you that it is even possible to do so through an app. Similarly, if you want to review your council tax payments online, you are likely to pour yourself a cup of tea in preparation for a battle with a clunky website.

Traditionally, the difference between positive and negative online experiences has been the difference between public and private sector digital services. For years now, the public sector has been maligned for its glacial like speed of digital transformation. Whilst the private sector produced the likes of LinkedIn, Uber, Netflix and Amazon, the public sector produced more and more reports!

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and we at PDMS like to think that we’re heavily involved in making sure that light gets bigger and brighter. The light I refer to is the spread of digital platforms across the public sector. Note: I use the word “spread” because digital platforms have been around for a while but only now are we really seeing an uptake across the public sector.  

Put simply, digital platforms are digital locations where multiple services can be delivered and consumed through a set of common design principles, and a core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes on which it’s easy to build brilliant, user-centric government services.

These platforms are being implemented to deliver integrated services designed around the individual rather than the organisation. One of the most visited public sector digital platforms around the world is Gov.uk. It is a UK Government eco-system where lots of national public services like HMRC, Vehicle registrations, marriage certificates, childcare benefits and employment services can all be accessed. From this one platform, the Government Digital Service team have been able to create common payment, verification and notification components. This allows different public services to use a standard way of operating. This service has received widespread commendation from around the world and is recognised as a serious step in the right direction for digital public services.

In the Isle of Man, the Government has also made significant progress in recent years with a common shared services and online payments platform to deliver a range of services from work permits right through to cattle passports.

This might not sound as exciting as innovations like artificial intelligence, driverless cars and biometrics, but the reality is that the adoption of a platform approach to digital public services will dramatically improve people’s lives and make a real improvement to national productivity. Drones might get a package to you in less time than a lorry but digital platforms could be the difference between a citizen completing the right forms to receive accommodation or sleeping on the street. Similarly, these platforms could remove huge amounts of strain on public sector budgets by causing large-scale reduction in IT spend.

Gov.uk is a very straightforward example of a digital platform because there are only two stakeholders involved: government and citizens. However, there are other types of platforms being used by the public sector to facilitate vastly improved public services.

A good example of one of these platforms is something we have been creating over a number of years in partnerships with the public sector. The platform, PDMS Employed, is a platform approach to employability and skills services within a geographical region.This is a much more ambitious project than the Gov.uk platform where there are only two stakeholders involved in the Gov.uk platform (Government and citizens).  There are multitudes of stakeholders involved in employability and skills services. These stakeholders include everyone from primary schools to employment related charities and citizens right through to employers. By taking a platform approach we have been able to simplify what is a very complex environment.

For example, the traditional approach would see every provider of an employability and skills service build, populate and maintain their own digital services. These services would be targeted at employers and citizens, creating an extremely frustrating and difficult experience. By taking a platform approach we are introducing common components across providers of services, which result in the target audience receiving an improved service and providers having access to an improved way of working.

We originally piloted this innovative approach in the Isle of Man through www.employed.im and we are now working on implementations further afield with public sector organisations in Scotland and the UK.

When you consider the impact that public services have on people’s lives, you begin to understand the potential digital platforms have to make a huge difference. Could there be a day when digital public services are made as easy as making a purchase through Amazon?

To conclude, budget cuts and political uncertainty mean public services are under enormous pressure. However, with a platform approach to the delivery of online services local and national governments can deliver improved services while making savings at the same time. It really is as easy as that. Next time you engage with an online public service, I hope it’s on a platform!