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Our first steps along the road to becoming a truly digital organisation

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This is my first blog post as Chief Digital Officer (CDO) for the Skills Funding Agency and so I will briefly cover a number of topics to bring everyone up to speed on where we are in our journey towards becoming a truly digital organisation.

Putting users first

Our user groups are very wide ranging. From young people looking to get onto the first step of their career ladder, to employers looking to take on new apprentices, and colleges and training providers delivering a whole plethora of training.

We are an organisation which already provides many online services for our users to engage and transact with, but we know from feedback that they often find the Agency services frustrating to work with and –unless they are compelled to use them – will often walk away without getting what they need. I am passionate about fixing this and putting our users firmly in the driving seat when it comes to our Digital Services.

The fundamental cornerstone of putting users first lies in great user research, which I always thought we were OK at until our GDS Exemplar in apprenticeships vacancy management showed us just how much we had to learn!

Our Apprenticeships Exemplar really did its job of showing us how it should be done, and I have now applied these approaches across the board at the Agency to make sure all of our digital services use good practices for user research. You can never get too good at this, although it would be fair to say our journey is well underway and our user research clan is powering ahead.

Our Apprenticeships Exemplar

I believe we were very fortunate to get a GDS Exemplar hosted at the Skills Funding Agency and I am making full use of this as the catalyst for change across the Agency. I’d be fibbing if I claimed it has been anything other than challenging, tough, paradigm shifting and quite new in many areas – it’s certainly no cakewalk.

It would also be fair to say that we have had many lively debates with GDS colleagues when reconciling the intent of the GDS Service Design Manual with the harsh reality of a world of legacy IT  systems, the Civil Service machine and limited in-house skills and capabilities. Good sense usually wins through in the end though and we all remain the best of friends.

Our Exemplar is in the pretty exciting world of finding potential apprentices great jobs and training; and has set itself the twin goals of making a fantastic user journey for a citizen searching for an apprenticeship vacancy, with continuous delivery provided by a new in-sourced service organisation operating to the 26 GDS standards.

More on this another time, but fingers crossed for our upcoming Public Beta assessment tomorrow. I look forward to flicking the ‘on switch’ straight afterwards and really testing whether we have got it right for our users.

Our CDO Function

At the start of 2014 we created the Chief Digital Office (CDO) function which assumed full responsibility for all digital service delivery as an autonomous line of business. This bold step capitalised on an opportunity afforded by the imminent restructuring of the Agency to create CDO and Chief Technology Office (CTO) functions in line with the GDS Beta model.

Like the Exemplar, this type of demarcation was new territory for us and we have had to work hard to ensure our implementation recognises the nature of our business and our maturity as a fully digital and agile organisation.

I for example, also have responsibilities for Project and Change Centres of Excellence in addition to core digital service and agile delivery. Not the text book, but it works for us. It was tough at the start but we’ve come a long way and the demarcation is starting to work well for us.

More on this another time when I will elaborate on our 3 new digital services in the Citizen, Employer and Provider domains. In the meantime I still have a large number of vacancies to fill so keep your eyes open for these and consider joining the team.

So, this is just a flavour of where we are on our digital odyssey, I’ll make sure I blog as we continue.

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