In a unique, cross department development, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) are working together to develop a new digital service which will enable staff to better serve and support customers both here in the UK and abroad.

UKTI supports UK businesses exporting their goods and services abroad as well as foreign investors looking to invest in the UK. Meanwhile, the FCO promotes the UK’s interests overseas, supporting citizens and businesses around the globe. UKTI and FCO often work in shared locations overseas and provide services to common customers in different ways, but using very different ICT systems.

Claire Boldy, head of digital strategy at UKTI, aims to change this. A Discovery project underway with the help of Rainmaker Solutions is “exploring user need and how digital services could help UKTI and FCO to better coordinate activity and deliver services to customers”.

UKTI procured support for this discovery phase via the G-Cloud Digital Marketplace. An experience Boldy describes as “very positive” and very easily completed.

“It enabled me to identify our requirements, search for a provider and shortlist very easily,” she says. “I could then speak to potential suppliers before I put together the final specification, so I knew that not only was our requirement realistic but that potential solutions were on the market.

“We invited only suitable suppliers to talk us through their proposal before making a final appointment. It sounds like a long process but it only took four weeks from putting pen to paper to awarding the contract.

“Our approach to Discovery is all about understanding users and their needs. We are passionate about designing digital services around the needs of our users rather than organisational silos and boundaries.”

Step change

Boldy adds: “We don’t want to just ‘improve what we have’ but explore whether there is a different way to meet the needs we are identifying and create a step change that will enable our users to work together whether here in the UK or overseas, from all angles — connectivity, mobile working, security and serving our common customers.

“We are open to possible digital solutions and have asked Rainmaker to challenge our historical ways of working and bring innovation to the table.”

She adds: “We are deliberately not pre-judging or solutionising at this stage. It is a case of ‘discover’ and ‘challenge’ but we are operating within some general principles. For example, any solution must meet the GDS service standard and security requirements. It has to be easy to use for users — light touch and effortless. Something that our staff want to log in to as it adds value to their working lives.”

Knowledge transfer

A key part of the requirement was transfer of knowledge to improve the in-house team’s self-sufficiency and capability moving forwards. “Capability building is part of the contract as we are a new digital team,” explains Boldy. “Rainmaker is very hot on transferring knowledge and have proactively offered opportunities for learning and mentoring around the tools they use, their ways of working and the successful processes they employ. We have definitely gained from this.”

In just seven weeks, 81 interviews have been completed with users. It was a highly valuable process that identified key users, key themes and according to Boldy “ensured that all our users are heard and represented — not just those who shout loudest!”

“We are confident that we now have an evidence base and a mandate to move forward with developing a prototype to test with staff,” she says.

The main themes coming out from discovery are: technology must be personal and tailored to the user need; it must be simple, adaptable and flexible; but it can be shared between two departments; and that enables the departments to use data to make intelligent decisions.

Following prototype testing a decision to initiate alpha phase will be made in January. Boldy adds, without hesitation: “Of course, we will go back out to the digital marketplace to procure the next stage.”

This is a reproduction of an article published on UKAuthority.com.

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