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OPINION: Customers Are The Key To A Digital Public Sector 

Tom Meade


Digital Transformation Registers Of Scotland

Tom Meade, Head of Digital at Registers of Scotland (RoS), shares what he’s learned from their experience of end-to-end customer engagement in digital transformation. 

Tom Meade Registers Of ScotlandIn business, digital is no longer an adjective – it’s an assumption. Whether a business is public sector or private, SME or multi-national, their customers and users expect an organisation with digital products, supported by digital processes that boost efficiency both externally and internally.

For large public sector bodies, digital transformation can be a major challenge. Legacy systems, complex paper records and an entrenched ‘business as usual’ attitude are oft-cited barriers to digital transformation. But don’t underestimate the ‘fear factor’ effect. Embracing digital can seem a daunting prospect, but that need not be the case.

Arguably the most important step? Opening eyes and ears to the most important audience: your customers. The public sector may differ from the private, but ultimately, in serving the national public interest the traditional supplier-customer model can still be applied. 

Beginning as you mean to continue

For truly effective customer engagement, it’s vital to begin the journey early, and never let up. At RoS, we published a digital consultation paper, which was circulated to a wide range of our customers, from solicitor firms to other public bodies. This document used a simple Q&A format to explain our digital strategy, how we were going to go about achieving it, and what products and services our customers felt would be most beneficial to prioritise.

The resulting engagement surpassed our expectations, and provided feedback that was exceedingly positive, while also highlighting which services, such as registration and standard security discharges, ought to be prioritised. This process, no different from publishing a standard business report, helped lay the groundwork for all development to come.

Customer driven design and developmentCustomer-centric product development

A digital consultation is a great starting point, but it represents a ‘macro-approach’ to customer engagement – and to a degree it’s self-selecting; it’s important to recognise the continuous ‘micro-approach’ in effectively developing new digital services. One of the very first steps is a discovery stage, allowing you to meet with important stakeholders from all user groups and understand how they currently work, what their pain points are with existing processes, and how a digital service could improve daily interactions. By having a deep understanding of our stakeholders, we can create a digital journey that meets their needs.

Close collaboration doesn’t end with the discovery stage. Once you have understood what your customers are looking for in a digital product, keep asking – it’s the only way to transform good intentions into reality. Indeed, our initial research sessions for new services like the Digital Discharge Service (DDS) iterated into design sessions, so that when we returned with wireframes and subsequent version of DDS, the participants could see the changes incorporated and continue to provide feedback. By the time we took the beta version to firms, they simply took command of the keyboard and started creating discharge requests themselves. Thanks to early and consistent customer engagement, customers are so deeply involved in the development process that the actual transition to a new service begins before it is even fully live.

Don’t forget internal support too

Digital transformation isn’t simply new products and services – it’s a shift change across the entire organisation. Supporting that organisational shift requires more than just first-class developers; a full complement of supporting teams can help embed the new mind-set within the fabric of an organisation.

Our experience at RoS gives two prime examples: our user experience (UX) team and innovation centre. The UX team has created a way that enables our staff and customers to volunteer to take part in design and usability testing sessions. This gives them the opportunity to shape products for them to better meet their needs and gives us vital information on what will work and what won’t. We have created a usability lab in our offices in Edinburgh, and also bring usability testing to participants’ offices.

Our innovation centre is all about supporting big ideas, and shaping them into tangible transformational business change initiatives. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement, and has produced results both externally and internally; for instance, we have trialled many of our new digital products in the innovation centre and experimented with different team make-ups, work routing and business processes to improve our service. We anticipate a number of these being scaled up from incubator status into our business in the coming months and delivering our customers real benefits.

Registers of Scotland document showing the outlines of a number of buildings.Take the plunge

From early digital consultation, through to regular customer engagement and developing internal support for transformation, embedding digital in a large public organisation may seem daunting. But don’t let that act as a barrier – it doesn’t take long for digital to begin reaping benefits. At RoS, whether it’s the enthusiastic feedback to our consultation or the weeks of work on individual cases that’s saved thanks to DDS, digital is delivering for both our staff and our customers. And all it began from was a desire to challenge business as usual and develop a vision for digital that would deliver for our customers. There’s nothing too terrifying about that.

Tom Meade

Digital Director, Registers Of Scotland

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