Chris Ferguson shares his thoughts on “good” digital transformation

November 13, 2022

The pandemic quickened the already increasing pace of adoption for technologies and digital solutions across many areas, including accelerated digital transformation efforts by many governments. Digital technology has the ability to fundamentally transform the way the public sector operates and delivers services to its constituents. However, a strategic approach to digital transformation in government is crucial, as digital capabilities can enable resilience and improved capacity.

How can we ensure that digital transformation, especially in the public sector, is achieved properly, in a way that benefits all constituents, including younger generations? We spoke with Chris Ferguson, Managing Director at Scott Logic and former Director at the UK’s Government Digital Service to hear his thoughts. 

In your view, what does “good” digital transformation look like, particularly in the public sector, and what are some best practices for achieving it?

Good digital transformation requires the involvement and inclusion of commercial, procurement, policy and operations colleagues – it’s a team sport. Too often the burden falls narrowly on digital, data or tech leaders when the implications and rewards of transformation will be felt across the whole departmental/agency landscape. Ensuring the appropriate governance (around finances, delivery and assurance) is in place and includes all the necessary stakeholders is key to success in the public sector. This can require some early pace to be sacrificed in the mobilization stages but it is worthwhile in the medium and long term to put secure, agreed and sustainable foundations in place.

One of the benefits of an agile digital government is the ability to respond rapidly and flexibly to meet urgent citizen needs in times of crises. How can the metrics provided by the NRI, which measure not just technology-related factors, but also those of people, governance, and impact, help nations understand the strengths and weaknesses of their digital strategies in order to construct a strong, resilient foundation for the future?

Often measurement creates a mindset that is backwards-looking and performance-oriented. This is not a negative but it is an incomplete view. Metrics, whether provided by NRI or part of any given governments’ performance regime, should also inform forecasts around future improvements and efficiencies – to set targets around what is next and not to only focus on whether or not the past has met the desired standards.

This year’s NRI will explore the theme of youth and digital transformation. What can be done to better prepare youth for a digital future? What are some areas of preparation that might be lacking?The relationship between governments and their local marketplace of suppliers must be cultivated and nurtured in order to ensure that the enormous needs of most public bodies to digitally transform can be met by the skills and talents of local businesses. This will not only create employment and training opportunities for young people (and the opportunity to start their own businesses) but the scale of spending will be capable of stimulating economic growth on a scale measurable in GDP terms in most countries. The UK’s Digital Marketplace was a programme designed to make procurement of digital goods and services simpler for officials – it achieved this, but it also created an incredible diversification and atomisation of the supply base. This was so successful that the UK had to create a global programme to replicate the model in five countries across 3 continents.

Chris Ferguson is the Managing Director of Scott Logic. Prior, Chris was a member of the original senior management team that built the UK’s Government Digital Service. In 2011, he was brought into the Cabinet Office to take on the digital identity challenge and created the team that developed GOV.UK Verify. In January 2015, Chris became the GDS director responsible for the digital group comprising GOV.UK, GOV.UK Verify, and the Government-as-a-Platform delivery team.

In February 2017, Chris established the National, International & Research Group within GDS. This will focus on how GDS engages and collaborates with the UK’s wider public sector, devolved administrations, and partner organizations worldwide. Chris is the chair of the cross-government Digital Leaders network and head of the digital profession within HM Government. Prior to his involvement with the digital transformation of public services, Chris’s career mainly focused on diplomacy and security in the UK and overseas.