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The effect of COVID-19 on digital self-service delivery and the Public Sector

In this latest blog post in our digital self-service series, we examine the extent of which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected plans for digital self-service within the Public Sector.

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With COVID-19 restrictions easing, and what is looking to be a slow return to a sense of normality for the UK, the past year has thrown up significant digital challenges for the Public Sector. In our recent Digital Self-Service in the Public Sector Report, results suggest an obvious change in attitudes towards digital transformation brought about because of the pandemic. Analysing how digital transformation has been disrupted, enhanced, and had perceptions change toward it, we delve deeper into the effects the pandemic has had on the Public Sector.


COVID-19, a driver for digital self-service change

Looking back at the latest blog in this series, one of the key findings revealed the potential shape of things to come when it comes to digital service delivery. In a nutshell, results from the 2021 GOSS Digital Self-Service in the Public Sector survey demonstrated a 15% increase in organisations predicting to have between 75-99% of their services delivered via digital self-service in three years' time. Whereas, in previous years, the majority of organisations consistently predicted to have up to 74% of services online in this same time frame. With these predictions remaining similar over previous years, until the past 12 months or so, it is hard to ignore COVID-19 as being a factor which is causing this newfound belief in the ability to deliver digital self-service.

With that said, results from the survey also go on to support the fact that COVID-19 has helped to accelerate digital self-service plans. When asked to clarify the extent to which the pandemic has affected their organisation, 65% said that it had accelerated or initiated plans for digital self-service. With an urgent need to support residents during lockdowns via online services, it is easy to see how the pandemic has helped to move digital self-service plans forward. Furthermore, this acceleration in service delivery is also enabling organisations to reassess what really could be achieved in three years' time.

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COVID-19, an accelerator and disruptor of digital self-service plans

When further examining COVID-19's effect on digital self-service plans, a more detailed picture emerges, providing context to the digital growth experienced in the past year. When asked to expand upon how COVID-19 has accelerated digital self-service plans, 46% agreed that it had help to improve internal working processes and communications. Likewise, 32% said it was helping their organisation to delivery customer services faster, and a further 22% said it had created a better approach to digital self-service across their organisation. When combined these three factors have come together to form the perfect combination to deliver digital self-service success.

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On the flip side however, there is a proportion who believe the pandemic has disrupted or postponed plans for digital self-service. Here, the vast majority, 71%, have said the pandemic had forced them to reallocate staff to tackle the immediate challenges of COVID-19, causing delays to digital projects. Furthermore, 29% have also said their internal digital setup was not adequate at the time the UK went into its first lockdown, causing significant disruption to workloads. What is interesting to note in both cases of disruption, is a lack of readiness. Unlike those organisations the pandemic accelerated or initiated plans for, 15% were left trying to sort internal systems to enable staff to work and communicate remotely whilst also trying to create COVID-19 services with limited staff and resources. Essentially the impact on digital self-service plans has been polarising, those who were ready were empowered to do more, whilst those who weren't were left struggling with the basics.

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A post-COVID-19 approach

Considering the challenges, the Public Sector have had to navigate over the past year, it is safe to say the pandemic has changed the way in which the sector operates. Looking at the level of remote support individuals have received, 83% said they had been provided with access to external services enabling remote working during the pandemic. Looking towards a post-COVID-19 world, it also looks incredibly likely many Public Sector organisations will continue with remote working practices, with 78% agreeing so.

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With this in mind, the future of digital self-service for the Public Sector certainly looks different as we begin to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organisations' approach and willingness to deliver on digital self-service plans have significantly shifted over the past year. While it is true that the Public Sector has experienced both acceleration and disruption to digital self-service plans, ultimately the future looks hopeful. If organisations can put into practice the digital transformation lessons they have learnt in the past year, then with a bit of luck the sector could be on its way to meet its 3-year digital self-service ambitions.