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From Smarter to Cleaner: How innovations in digital and data are helping drive cleaner, more sustainable growth

Seth Finegan, UK CEO, Informed Solutions looks at how organisations are using newly found digital capabilities to pivot their transformation efforts towards developing sustainable business operating models- from smarter to cleaner.

We are emerging from a global pandemic that has hastened a global consensus about the importance of having national capabilities in data, digital skills, and advanced technologies and how these capabilities strengthen our resilience for future challenges.

During the last two years organisations of all shapes and sizes have adopted and developed digital capabilities at a rate previously unseen. Many reports evidenced that the first three months of the pandemic accelerated take-up and adoption of digital operating and service models by several years. This accelerated change cycle has established the foundations for more comprehensive and long-term digital transformation within many organisations.

However, as we become more conscious of the impact we have on our environment, we know that in we must shift our focus to transforming operations to being not only more efficient but also more sustainable. Accordingly, those organisations that successfully adopted new digital operating models are now wanting to understand how digital capability can be applied to deliver cleaner services that drive healthier and more sustainable outcomes for society.

To transform the future, we must learn from the past. Taking organisations in the public and private sector through their digital transformations over the last 30 years has taught us a lot. So, how can we utilise this experience to accelerate and de-risk organisation’s efforts to transform to more sustainable operating models using data science-led techniques, frameworks, and technologies? – If you wish a move from digital transformation to clean transformation.

From user accessibility to intelligence, analysis, and action.

A key development within the realm of innovation and digital government in the UK was the advent of the Government Digital Service (GDS). The first wave of innovation here of course focused on front-end development and transforming the user experience using user research techniques, interaction design, and service design at the forefront. These early efforts delivered efficient, advanced digital services to public servants and citizens for less investment, which resulted in greater engagement and citizen and customer satisfaction.

As the years passed, there was a shifting realisation that we also needed to further develop our capabilities in back-office transformation. It became apparent that digital shoudn’t just be a bolt-on, but it should in fact be the basis through which we reimagined the entire operating model of an organisation or service.  Once digital foundations were established, heads then turned to the unmissable opportunities that data could have on continuous improvement of services and operations. This ultimately opened the door for the current mainstreaming of machine learning (ML) artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics capability that we are becoming used to operating with today.

The impact that the initial innovation had on citizens and civil servants alike was transformative. For citizens, the first efforts made the experience of interacting with the state in the digital world, much easier. The Gov.UK unified portal for all government departments was a clear example of this and the crucial services such as paying your taxes online emerged, and the citizen experience became a lot less painful. But we are now seeing these service capabilities drive actionable insights for government bodies, moving from a stage of transactional digital models, which focus on service usability and cost to data-driven operating models that focus on valuable, actionable intelligence and analysis. Through this we have been able to unlock new value, delivering public services that delight users at lower cost, but also enable healthier, safer, cleaner, more inclusive, and smarter communities.

To give just one example of a data-driven operating model. We have been building data and AI into digital services to provide improved outcomes in public health. Alongside, NHS England and NHS Improvement we have delivered the Learning from Patient Safety Events service, which will integrate with around 10,000 different care settings (including pharmacies, GP practices, and hospitals) to collect data on incidents, whilst patients are in care settings. Natural language processing and ML models will track through unstructured texts and written patient safety incident narratives across NHS trusts to identify and analyse incident trends across healthcare networks. This service will reduce pressure on clinicians and free up important resources, allowing teams to focus on delivering care, whilst millions of incident reports are secured and analysed, producing insights that NHS teams can use to enhance patient safety.

Designing for cleaner services

These example of using technology and building data and analytics into digital services demonstrates that expertise in these areas is advancing and gradually being drawn into the development of sustainable business models and sustainable value propositions.

As a digital community we are now challenged with providing simple, usable services at low cost as well as going much further to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate pollution, with sustainability now sitting as an important driver for digital design and development.

In the past where we aimed to design digital versions of services, we are now striving to design clean services. This is an important opportunity to apply our expertise as leaders and as a digital community not just to innovate in technology and data science, but to help the government and public sector to refresh their operating models, using data analysis and insights to inform smart policy, whilst allowing policy makers to re-imagine what is possible through new digital service design and dynamic operating models.

Digital innovation supporting sustainable development

A great example of such exploration can be seen in Scotland where NatureScot, the national nature agency, works to improve the natural environment so that key habitats and landscapes are maintained, enhanced, and deliver benefit to the environment, local communities and society as a whole.

The agency is currently working with Informed Solutions to better understand the potential for advanced digital technology to provide rich, targeted information on environmentally sensitive areas to non-expert users, such as farmers, estate managers, landowners, and developers. These users regularly interact with NatureScot to obtain information that provides clarity around land use applications, whilst NatureScot assures the protection of environmentally sensitive areas through the planning process.

To improve the accuracy of the information provided to users, as well as their ability to access that information with speed and with ease, Informed Solutions has developed a pioneering service for the agency. By combining Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing and spatial analytics capabilities, the real-time digital service for land asset management integrates data derived from environmental and ecological models, across multiple data sources to provide a within-site mapping of environmental risks and opportunities. This integrated mapping and conversation-based user interface helps users understand protected areas in more detail, joining-up and making sense of information that was previously ‘locked away’ in a growing volume of text documents stored in a variety of locations and often siloed in legacy databases.

In this way we can see that digital is not only able to support significant process improvement and user experience but that it is now also bringing about sector-level changes within planning that will significantly improve climate and environment outcomes.

Data and digital for cleaner smart cities

In previous years where we have used digital to manage smart transport operations, we are now using digital to spread awareness of the impact we have on the environment by driving our vehicles. A number of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) have been launched across country aiming to change motorists’ behaviour through awareness campaigns and conditional charging, highlighting the detrimental effects of vehicle pollution.

Following discussion about CAZs in various local authorities, we have seen how the design of a digital service can affect policy design and analysis. This demonstrates the maturation of our digital community where service design is translated and applied within the complex realm of politics and policy design, allowing us to solve a wider range of problems and have a more meaningful impact.

We can now see that through this example, many of our public bodies now have fully digital operating models where their use of digital technology is defining how their organisation functions, continuously improve services for their customers and help achieve clean growth outcomes.

A new wave of transformation is here. One where these same organisations are now asking how digital technologies will facilitate the next priority objective – becoming clean and sustainable for the future. Many want now to know how to de-risk business change towards operating models whereby a business is not simply geared to take out carbon from their operations but to reshape their businesses so that they don’t have a carbon footprint at all. This is the exciting innovation opportunity that we are beginning to work with our clients and partners on. And, whilst the UK is a clear front-runner in digital government, our community is now aiming to become a front-runner in digitally enabled clean growth in the UK and internationally.

This offers an exciting window of opportunity to use the skills and talents of our digital community to create safer, healthier, cleaner, and more inclusive economies and societies, a worthwhile purpose for us as a company and, I believe, for the industry as a whole.

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