How technology is transforming an 800-year-old justice system

How technology is transforming an 800-year-old justice system

As providers of essential services with better access to resources, government bodies and their affiliated agencies are well-placed to be at the forefront of digital transformation.

Over the last five years, the UK’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been tackling a complex digital transformation of the UK justice system. The MoJ sees that as essential for making its services more modern, efficient and easier to access.

Speaking at the CeBIT eGovernment Conference, Tom Read, Chief Digital and Information Officer with the UK Ministry of Justice, shared his insights from the MoJ’s journey to digital transformation:

1. Go cloud first

Cloud implementation is the first step anyone should take when embarking on digital transformation, says Read. Such an approach eliminates the need to build data repositories, which is why the MoJ established its cloud-first policy in 2013, for this simple reason.

It’s also about the best use of resources. Read points out that companies like Amazon are better than government at running data centres: “If you look at AWS and Azure, they’re faster and more secure. We don’t need to be doing the same thing,” he says.

Privacy is always a concern and a challenge, but Read says the UK’s public cloud is secure enough for 98% of government work, given that most of what they do is transactional. He adds that the UK’s systems are as secure as those used in banks and other industries that collect, store and use secure data.

The cloud enables continuous delivery, which is a vital enabler of digital transformation. Moving to the cloud also allows governments to:

  • move from “big bang implementations” to small, iterative changes
  • apply upgrades and security patches continuously
  • scale services at a cheaper cost
  • prevent service outages.

Currently, the MoJ’s digital transformation strategy includes using Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and many software-as-a-service applications, including Trello and Microsoft Office 365.

Read also notes that moving legacy systems to public cloud can be hard and expensive, but once undertaken, it should be the last hosting platform that governments will ever need.

2. Digital transformation is not about blockchain, iPads or VR

While technologies like artificial intelligence or virtual reality have proven to be valuable in several applications, digital transformation is not just about bringing in new technology into your operations, or using tools that no-one else is.

Read acknowledges that blockchain technology can help governments earn public trust. He also notes that with so many consultancies selling solutions that claim to enable digital transformation, senior stakeholders often get excited by – and want to implement – a new solution that may not actually change or improve the lives of its users.

So what is digital transformation about?

3. It’s building services for your users

True digital transformation puts the customers, or the user, at the centre of change, says Read.

He uses the (fictional) example of Isabel, a mother of two who’s going through a divorce and needs information on how her children will be implicated.

Typically, a person in Isabel’s situation would first go to Google for answers, but then be served with ads from law firms. She might also turn to an online community to seek advice from real people, and that can result in getting even more inaccurate information, frustrating her further at an already stressful time.  

Read says that understanding the issues that real people face, like being unable to afford a lawyer, is how governments should begin gearing their efforts to transform digitally.

The MoJ has begun this by redesigning their website, turning traditionally complex information into easy-to-understand advice. The MoJ’s goal is to make it easier for users to:

  • access accurate, up-to-date information when they need it most
  • obtain the information they need in plain English, to help them make decisions with less stress.

4. Build a partnership with policy teams

The MoJ is taking the principles of digital delivery to make policy development more inclusive and human. For this to happen, Read says that policy, service design and delivery teams need to work together.

The MoJ has recently applied this new approach to the UK’s justice system with two objectives in mind:

  • Reduce recidivism rates by helping prisoners stay in touch with their families (research has shown that 38% of people who maintain a connection with their families while in prison are less likely to enter prison again within a year).
  • Make prisons safer for staff through digital services that inform officers of critical information before they engage with prisoners in person.  

5. Build diverse, inclusive, brilliant teams

Instead of outsourcing projects and tasks, Read says governments should focus on building internal teams that can help them take their digital transformation efforts into the future. However, he does note that finding good digital talent is hard!

Being diverse in your hiring brings more comprehensive and far-reaching skills to the table. The MoJ takes a diverse and inclusive approach to hiring. Their teams today include:

  • 32% of women, compared to 25% in 2016
  • twice the number of women in senior roles (from 25% to 50%)
  • twice the number of LGBTQI workers from 2016
  • 19% of Black, Asian and people from other minority ethnic groups on staff in 2017, compared to 8% in 2016.

Empathy + service design = better public services. This is what digital transformation is about, according to Read.

Just as technology is transforming a centuries-old justice system, it’s also being harnessed to ensure that even the most vulnerable citizens have access to their intrinsic rights. Our How Governments can Foster Social Inclusion e-book explains how to do that. Download it today.

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