Streamlining or Transforming

In early 2001 I presented to an audience of civil servants from the Inland Revenue, 300 or so grade 5s up to the Permanent Secretary (grade 5 is old money for what is now SCS 1).

The idea was to walk them through the changes that the Internet was bringing – and, particularly, what it would mean for the way they engaged with taxpayers (oh the debates that were had about customer versus taxpayer versus citizen versus many other words).

At the time Self Assessment was the only online transaction available from the IR’s website – we’d put that online in April 2000, though the application itself came on a floppy disc (we moved it to a truly online app in time for the 2001 tax year). Those were, indeed, the days.

I’ve pulled a couple of the slides out

Cell-phones as the next generation access tool? Who would have thought.

The conversation I wanted to have, mainly, was around the change in the customer experience that would come about from moving online – a shorter, more interactive, more reponsive process that had the power to change everything about the way tax was collected (timing, amounts, compliance etc)

Today, many would call this “digital transformation.” But, it’s not. It’s streamlining the process – getting rid of redundant steps, using technology to replace paper, speeding the turnaround time, providing feedback etc. The customer experience is certainly transformed; now a taxpayer / citizen / user / customer can reliably send their tax return in 1 minute before the annual deadline and know that it has been received safely. The numbers of people who send their tax returns in on Christmas Day was surpisingly high, from day one of putting this service online. Much of what we call “digital transformation” is like this – getting a paper process online and making it easier to use isn’t transformational at the macro level, although it can be in terms of customer experience. Do it when you want to, not when we want you to.

There are constraints of course – the Internet was new for many, but expectations were quickly moving much higher:

Looking at that all these years later, I wonder if I got hierarchy and capability the wrong way round, or whether I was making a different point. I think the former.

But we had a plan

True transformation needs a fundamental re-engineering. It changes not the process but the outcomes, removes constraints and affects people, the economy and the government fundamentally.

There are precious few examples of Real Transformation (TM), except where people throw the T word around to gloss over a lack of innovation, or lack of new thinking and just want to pretend that the planned changes are a big deal.

Leave a Reply