The NAO said that, despite 25 years of attempts to implement digital business changes and government strategies, its findings still revealed a “consistent pattern of underperformance”.
Because of this, government programmes are “not being sufficiently thought through” before important decisions on tech-based solutions are made.
In turn, this has a knock-on effect, widening the gap between what the government plans to achieve and what it delivers. This, the report said, ends up wasting taxpayer’s money and delays improvements to public services.
The NAO suggests that the government “learn the hard-won lessons” of experience and “equip its leaders to act effectively” to build on promises to deliver digital business change.
In addition, the report concludes that the difficult set of decisions required to make digital transformation does not “reflect the reality” of the government’s current environment and do not “fit comfortably” into its standard mechanisms for approval.
Central Digital and Data Office, along with the Government Digital Service and the Cabinet Office, should begin reviewing and applying lessons learned from past failures and successes to improve the government’s delivery of digital programmes, the report suggested.
Commenting on the report, Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Whilst digital leaders bring much-needed expertise to the public sector, they often struggle to get the understanding and support they need from senior decision-makers, who lack knowledge in this area.
“There has been a consistent pattern of underperformance in delivering digital business change, often resulting from decisions on technology being taken too early, before the business problem is properly understood.
“Government must learn from past experience and better equip senior leaders if it is to improve its track record of delivering digital change.”
Digital skills are fast becoming vital for the country to continue to offer vital public services. Institutions, such as the government or the NHS, are needing to quickly upskill workers to move with the growing use of technology.
Westminster has previously made attempts to boost digital skills appointments within Westminster, announcing plans in January this year to build its digital leadership with new staff appointments.
Three senior digital, data and technology leaders were announced, as well as the launch of a new Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) early in February.
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In Scotland, government and businesses are working to address a digital skills shortage across the country.
More than 23,000 people across Scotland are to be given new online skills and training through the Connecting Scotland programme.
The £26-million programme aims to improve digital literacy and accessibility among people on lower incomes or socially isolated groups, such as the elderly.
Additionally, the Scottish Government announced increased funding in December to help businesses take advantage of digital technology over the next year.
The plan is for Scottish firms to use the funding support to improve business productivity, increase their resilience and create new market opportunities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.