Simon Shepherd, Regional Director of Healthcare and Public Sector
When central government published its “Government Transformation Strategy” in early 2017, its ambition was clear: To transform the relationship between citizen and state by expanding the public sector’s digital footprint so UK citizens could benefit from more streamlined, cost-effective, and responsive public services.
The strategy is foundational to overcoming the increasing pressure on public services caused by an ageing population and a steadily shrinking pool of resources across all sectors, from health-care and housing to law enforcement and local government.
The message was communicated in unequivocal terms—swift digital transformation is critical if the public sector is to meet its obligations to the UK public, and strong progress must be demonstrated by the target date of 2020. This urgency was recently underlined by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who called for more healthcare apps to support health sector workers and patients. He understands that new applications can streamline processes and provide more personalised support for public service recipients.
Of course, setting bold targets is all very well, but the road to achieving them is far from straightforward. The public sector has a complex legacy technology environment that has grown organically over decades. Previous reform programmes have suffered high profile problems, and, understandably, this has contributed to a fear of failure, resistance to change, and lack of ownership in the sector. This is something we come across frequently in our work with public sector organisations—they know they need to act and act soon, but they’re acutely aware that previous strategies haven’t worked.
Those strategies usually take one of two forms. First, there is the sticking plaster approach: the organisation identifies an improvement that can be made and looks for an external provider who can offer a quick-fix solution that works right now. The problem is that there can be a lack of strategic decision-making, and the solution is often incapable of growing with the organisation or integrating effectively with other services. Furthermore, the external provider holds all the cards, locking the organisation into software over which they have little control. The second strategy has been to take a more expensive, strategic approach involving large consultancy firms who put multi-year programmes in place. These programmes can be inflexible given the pace of change in both technology and user expectations.
Neither approach, relying heavily on outside involvement, does much to help empower the internal teams who are working in the public sector. Projects proceed in silos, and there is a sense that change is being inflicted from the outside. Resistance naturally increases because the people who are working at the coalface of IT delivery have little sense of ownership.
Empowering the Right People
To move public sector digital transformation forward, agencies should empower in-house teams to take on and deliver transformational projects from start to finish. The result is a feeling of achievement as they roll out their own solutions to citizens and colleagues. This is crucial to effecting culture change and reducing the fear of failure that holds organisations back. Here are three key ways that a low-code development platform can help:
- Staffing: Using low-code means organisations can build an agile team of existing staff rather than recruiting advanced developers in an employment market where such skills are priced at a premium or, in the case of some places, are simply not available locally. This reduces the setup cost and creates immediate buy-in from teams who will have ownership of the app development projects.
- Ownership: With a low-code platform such as OutSystems, the team has complete ownership of the software development lifecycle and is not locked into a supplier that will hold their assets for ransom at the end of a subscription period. The intellectual property remains with the organisation. Also, the beauty of the public sector is that organisations are not in competition with each other. This means that when one organisation overcomes an issue, that success can be shared through open standards, meaning the ROI for the public sector as a whole is increased.
- Risk and ROI: Risk is lower when organisations develop apps with low-code, and ROI is higher. Development time is cut from months or years to just weeks, and apps are launched to market more successfully. This, in turn, creates more demand for apps and builds confidence in the team that delivers them.
Putting Empowerment into Practice: Worcestershire County Council
Worcestershire County Council aimed to achieve all this when it embarked on a comprehensive digital transformation programme powered by OutSystems. They used our low-code platform to create an agile development team of existing employees, and by the end of the first year, they had delivered 53 apps for citizens and businesses, saving an estimated £1.6 million. Furthermore, they published all the apps under an open-source license. All other local authorities can share and reuse these apps, so Worcestershire County Council’s investment is benefiting the whole local government sector.
One of the most powerful intangible outcomes from low-code adoption is that the team develops a belief in itself as it delivers each new app. We see this time and again with organisations that we work with. Often, at the start, they simply are not confident that they can deliver successful apps in-house. Once they find that they can, there is no stopping them. Momentum builds. It is this sense of empowerment that truly drives progress and helps organisations take ownership of their digital transformation journey—it’s at least as important as the public money saved.
A New Challenge: The Government Issues an Update to Its Transformation Strategy
The ongoing challenges of digital transformation in the public sector have led the Government Digital Services department to issue an update to the initial programme, entitled the “Local Digital Declaration.” This statement recognises many of the issues that I’ve already discussed. It commits to building digital public services around the needs of users, rather than being hamstrung by legacy technology or limited by organisational silos. It vows to “fix the plumbing” by breaking dependence on expensive, inflexible technology that doesn’t join up (the sticking plasters I mentioned) and instead using open standards to ensure integration. Finally, it commits to creating a transparent and genuine culture of transformation and digital leadership throughout its working practices.
All of this absolutely aligns with the low-code ethos that we endorse here at OutSystems. The public sector should be empowered to drive its own digital projects. Employees should be proud of what they can achieve and the new ways in which they can achieve it. That’s what real transformation means, and that’s what low-code can deliver.
We cannot ‘lockdown’ to avoid the climate crisis
By Vaughan Lindsay, CEO, ClimateCare
The parallels between the Coronavirus response and how we could all collaboratively tackle the climate crisis should not be overlooked. Tackling either problem, for instance, has changed our lifestyle in so many ways. In short, we have all have to make adaptations for a much longer-term gain. I also believe that the pandemic has highlighted to us all that we can live differently; indeed, that we are all incredibly adaptable.
We cannot isolate from the climate crisis.
Nevertheless, there are also some very important differences too; namely the speed in which we witness effects and how long we will all live with the impact. Covid-19 is more immediate, it’s on everyone’s minds (no matter how fatigued we all are by the topic after a year of living with it). Climate change, on the other hand, feels like a much longer-term threat which doesn’t invoke the same kind of unease or fear – or at least not enough for people to take immediate action. Yet, as Mark Carney so eloquently summed up recently, the world is heading for mortality rates equivalent to the Covid crisis every year by mid-century unless action is taken right now. “One of the biggest issues is you cannot self-isolate from climate,” he said. “That is not an option. We cannot retreat in and wait out climate change, it will just get worse.” Bill Gates also further highlighted the severity of the situation too when he recently commented that solving climate change would be “the most amazing thing humanity has ever done” and by comparison, ending the pandemic is “very, very easy”, the billionaire founder of Microsoft claimed.
Ultimately, the short-term imperative of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t alter the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis. And certainly, there is currently no ‘silver bullet’ for solving either the pandemic or climate change. However, there are a set of agreed actions that every business and individual can (and should) take to help tackle these issues. To tackle Covid-19 we lockdown, we work from home, we continue social distancing, washing our hands and wearing masks to protect one another and the NHS. And of course, we continue to roll out the vaccines and treatments for longer term protection.
On the other hand, we cannot lockdown to tackle the climate crisis. Rather for climate change, it’s about understanding and taking responsibility for our climate impact, both by changing our behaviour to reduce our carbon footprint and by decarbonising many of our business models and lifestyles. .
Now is the time to build back better.
To ‘build back better’ then we need to work towards a sustainable low or zero carbon recovery, and this needs to be done with realism and integrity. Not only does this mean that we need to work together to create integrated and robust climate strategies, but we also need to take action to decarbonise sooner rather than later and while we make these structural changes, we need to ensure that we are compensating for all residual emissions as part of everyday business too.
Taking action (over pledges).
Despite the pandemic, it was encouraging last year to see the ever-increasing number of corporates committing to achieve Net Zero status. However, whilst it is great to see firms working hard to measure their footprint and set reduction targets, many firms still admitted to us that they are waiting to get this right before they take action to reduce and compensate for their emissions. This remains a concern. Because, whilst these plans and long-term targets are commendable, they do little for the environmental damage that is being done right now. There is a risk of action hiding behind plans.
Ultimately, we need to more than halve emissions by 2030; this is equivalent to reducing the current emissions of China, India, the EU and the US combined. It’s a mammoth task. To tackle it we need to drive actions simultaneously and at pace, and then modify and adjusting moving forward. In simple terms, there really isn’t time to take things one step at a time anymore. We need to take action right away. As such – and as we continue through this coming year – we need to see more of these ambitious plans and statements put into practice, as companies continue to turn their plans (and pledges) into action.
Time to raise the bar.
The issue of climate change is now central to nearly all forward-thinking corporates and we are now witnessing one of most encouraging environments for them to act on this. It’s vital to ensure that the role of the voluntary carbon market delivers real additional emission reductions on the ground and at scale.
Never before has there been a better time to raise the bar and our own ambitions about what positive corporate action looks like. Because the climate will not respond to targets and pledges. Only action counts.
UK house price growth picks up unexpectedly in February – Nationwide
LONDON (Reuters) – British house price growth picked up unexpectedly last month, mortgage lender Nationwide said on Tuesday, defying expectations of a slowdown as finance minister Rishi Sunak readies new budget measures to boost the market.
House prices rose 6.9% in annual terms in February from 6.4% in January, Nationwide said, above all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists that had pointed to a slowdown to 5.6%.
In February alone, prices rose 0.7%, more than reversing a 0.2% decline in January and bucking expectations for a 0.3% drop.
Nationwide said the outlook for the housing market was particularly uncertain right now, with the potential for it to be boosted further by Sunak when he presents his annual budget on Wednesday.
But the market could slow because of a weakening labour market, the lender said.
Sunak looks set to extend a temporary cut to property purchase taxes until June and announce a new mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers, according to media reports.
Samuel Tombs, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics consultancy, said he doubted any new scheme would solve affordability problems faced by first-time buyers.
“Nonetheless, our forecast for house prices to drop by about 2% this year now looks too downbeat, though we’ll wait for details of the guarantee scheme to be released before providing new numbers,” Tombs said.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by Michael Holden)
Jack Ma loses title as China’s richest man after coming under Beijing’s scrutiny
By Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh
BEIJING (Reuters) – Alibaba and Ant Group founder Jack Ma has lost the title of China’s richest man, a list published on Tuesday showed, as his peers prospered while his empire was put under heavy scrutiny by Chinese regulators.
Ma and his family had held the top spot for China’s richest in the Hurun Global Rich List in 2020 and 2019 but now trail in fourth place behind bottled water maker Nongfu Spring’s Zhong Shanshan, Tencent Holding’s Pony Ma and e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo’s Collin Huang, the latest list showed.
His fall on anti-trust issues,” the Hurun report said.
Ma’s recent woes were triggered by an Oct. 23 speech in which he blasted China’s regulatory system, leading to the suspension of his Ant Group’s $37 billion IPO just days before the fintech giant’s public listing.
Regulators have since tightened anti-trust scrutiny on the country’s tech sector, with Alibaba taking much of the heat; the market regulator launched an official anti-trust probe into Alibaba in December.
Chinese regulators also began to tighten their grip on the fintech sector and have asked Ant to fold some of its businesses into a financial holding company to be regulated like traditional financial firms.
Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, then disappeared from the public eye for about three months, triggering frenzied speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged in January with a 50-second video appearance.
China’s current richest man, Zhong, made his first appearance at the top spot largely thanks to the share price performances of Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which he also controls.
Tencent’s Ma saw his wealth swell 70% over the year to 480 billion yuan ($74.16 billion) while Pinduoduo’s Huang’s fortune grew 283% to 450 billion yuan, the list said. In comparison, the wealth of Ma and his family grew 22%, to 360 billion yuan.
Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, broke into the top five rankings among Chinese billionaires in Hurun’s Global Rich List for the first time, with an estimated personal wealth of $54 billion.
($1 = 6.4724 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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