Futureproofing: The digital-first UK public sector

The desire for “digital-first” services is unanimous across the UK public sector – but what exactly does this mean for healthcare, local government, housing, policing, or education organisations? In industries with (historically) manually driven processes across the board, the constant development of digital strategies can sometimes be confusing – but this recent digital transformation trend is more than just a buzzword.

What does digital-first mean?

In the context of public services, digital-first means exactly what it says on the tin – it describes a process that is commenced digitally in the first instance. Though digitised internal processes (such as admin or record updating) could technically be classed as digital-first, the term is usually used to describe a point of contact for service users accessed digitally – such as appointment booking, consultations, or sharing information. 

Healthcare & NHS

Healthcare is a leading sector in the digital-first initiative, with NHS England already implementing its “Digital First Primary Care” programme across the nation. Arguably accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that the national healthcare service’s digital-first evolution precedes social distancing – in fact, the NHS Long Term Plan published in January 2019 includes its plans to “open a digital ‘front door’ to the health service, allowing patients to be able to access health care at the touch of a button”.

Local government

Councils across the UK also have digital-first values at the top of their agendas. “Transforming local services through digital” – one of four reports outlining ‘a digital vision for local government’ from the Local Government Association – calls for the continued creation of applications and interfaces enabling interaction with local services for residents. This includes a particular focus on “the building of a set of reusable and widely available cross-government ‘platforms’ to support a common approach to tasks such as making online payments.”


Digital-first approaches have also been invaluable for housing associations, remaining a strong priority for organisations across the sector. With Universal Credit applications on the rise, and many families across the country facing financial difficulties in wake of COVID-19, housing associations across the country have placed particular importance on ensuring tenants can access services digitally, whenever suits them best. From applications and payments, to maintenance requests and complaints handling - housing associations are tackling an increase in demand with digital-first services.


According to the NPCC, digital policing is at the forefront of activities for police across the country. As our personal lives become increasingly digital, so does crime – forming the Policing Vision 2025. As well as aspirations to improve digital investigation capabilities, the NPCC has also announced its Digital Public Contact (DPC) programme, providing a “simple, well known and reliable digital contact service between the public and the police that ensures the public is informed and digitally enabled.” Aiming to provide reporting, tracking, and financial transactions online, the policing sector has adopted a particular focus on digital-first services as well.

Higher education

Another sector that found incredible digital-first impacts throughout the pandemic was UK higher education. However, much like in the NHS, the sector has found a multitude of benefits within a digital-first approach, informing the recent “Digital at the core: a 2030 strategy framework for university leaders” Framework – created by vice-chancellors, sector partners and over 40 universities across the UK. The report calls for universities to harness digitisation in the meeting (and exceeding) of expectations held by students in an overwhelmingly digital climate.

Digital-first technology

With digital-first approaches taking a clear lead within public sector priorities, it’s no wonder organisations across the UK are seeking new digital capabilities to facilitate these transformations. But how exactly is a digital-first approach implemented?


eForms are key in the creation of digital-first processes. Accessible through any computer or mobile browser, web-based eForms allow for the secure collection of information through an optimised user interface. Integrable with existing infrastructure and back-office systems, eForms are a highly popular tool in digital-first projects, allowing users to share information wherever and whenever suits them best. Common uses for eForms include:

  • Appointment booking
  • Service registrations
  • Crime, issue, or complaint reporting
  • Information requests
  • Personal details & account amends

Learn more about eForms

Mobile applications

In terms of public-facing digital-first services, mobile apps can play a similar role to eForms, but specifically within mobile device environments. Known colloquially as apps, mobile applications allow organisations to create purpose-built solutions with native-like functionalities – such as image capture through camera applications, GPS connectivity, and communication with other local apps. Another way to implement secure data capture through optimised user interfaces, apps are commonly used in:

  • Service orders and requests
  • Reports with uploaded media from native features
  • Administration and information amends
  • Portal gateways for further digital services
  • Payments and account services

Learn more about mobile apps

Robotic process automation

Also known as RPA, robotic process automation is a commonly used technology behind the scenes of digital-first processes. Allowing the integration, synchronisation and migration of information captured through digital-first interfaces (such as mobile apps and eForms), RPA uses bots to emulate repetitive digital tasks. Essential for ensuring data gets to its correct destination, it’s often used in:

  • Applying changes and requests to individual accounts and files
  • Ensuring digital requests reach the correct departments
  • Eliminating rekeying following data capture
  • Synchronising databases, such as open and booked appointment slots
  • Integrating front-end data capture with relevant systems

Learn more about RPA

Looking to find out just how mobile applications, eForms and RPA could benefit your public sector organisation? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team, or book a free bespoke demo to address your unique requirements. Interested to learn more? Browse our case studies for real-life examples, or join us at our next public sector focused event.