The importance of business change and benefits in digital regulatory reform

Insights from Mark Sutton, Chief Digital Officer – Care Quality Commission

In our recent webinar reviewing the findings of the inaugural UK Government Regulatory Technology Report, panellist Mark Sutton answers questions from panel facilitator Dr Russell Richardson (North Sea Transition Authority) on the barriers to regulatory technology adoption and how to bring people along for the regulatory transformation journey.

Dr Russell Richardson: The research in the report shows that the main barriers to regulatory technology adoption are around securing funding and ensuring IT capacity. Did that surprise you? And has that been your experience?

Mark Sutton: This is a really, really terrific report – all of the things included really resonate with me. So yes, money is the real challenge for all of us; that resonates and that's what a lot of my peers say when I speak to them. It’s a real barrier for this, and if I cast my mind back on my experience in this role and other roles as well, technology tends to be that type of expenditure, which often when things get tough, gets cut. Of course, what happens over a long period of time is that we get a build-up of this technical debt. And that technical debt becomes a hard thing to overcome.

What's happened recently is this exciting phenomena where we have these new ways of working available to us – these new modern platforms that enable us to do things very differently. When I started my career, I was a COBOL programmer (yes, that’s how old I am!), but things aren't done that way anymore: we configure now instead of writing code; we take advantage of cloud-based platforms which means that we can do things really quickly; and we can deliver large, scalable, secure, high-quality digital experiences for people very quickly, which is fantastic. However, that requires a whole new set of investment. And it's not just about the investment in the technology, it's the investment in people as well. One of the things that we're all being challenged with at the moment is how do we get the right people to be able to manage and support these systems, and take advantage of these opportunities?

It's not just about the investment in the technology, it's the investment in people as well.

It's not just technology, it's now also data and insight that we need to build and integrate into our systems to do the best that we can. That recruitment challenge for us, particularly within government, is even more challenging than it is in the private sector. We have restrictions around pay and salary scales that we can offer, so we've got to make sure that we create a compelling offer for people to join us. Why would you join us as a regulator? Well, actually there is a compelling offer; the compelling offer is we've got a great purpose – we as a regulator, CQC, are all about the health and safety of people who are using health and social care in England. That strikes at the heart of everybody as everybody will have themselves, or a loved one, who's been through an experience.

We've got to be innovative about how we use our resources and we also we want to make ourselves a great workplace to attract people with disabilities or neurodiverse colleagues (something I'm really passionate about).

In terms of our experience, I think we are lucky to have our chief executive who really understands the power of strategic technology and strategic analysis, and he's prepared to invest in that. There’s a criticality of having chief executives who've got that understanding of the power of data and insight and technology as a strategic tool.

Dr Russell Richardson: You raise a very good point about having that support and if you get chief executive support, then it makes things much easier to implement. For me, it brings on the next question which is very pivotal about culture, and changing culture and support. Successful regulatory reform takes a lot more than technology, as we all know and as the report states. How do you bring people along that regulatory transformation journey?

Mark Sutton: I recognise that as a problem. I don't think I've necessarily got all the answers to that but what I would say is from what I observe and from my experience, that one single answer is the critical nature of your success of any digital transformation is to make sure that it's all about the business change and the benefits that it will deliver. The technology and the data insight tools that we've got available to us now are absolutely phenomenal – and they are transformative. But you can't lead with that; you've got to lead with so what does this mean in terms of regulatory transformation? What are the benefits that are coming out of the ability for us to do this?

We're really excited about the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund. This gives us the ability to try and highlight some of that incredible innovation within the community of providers of health and social care, and what real-life changing benefits that's bringing to people who use services and the people that care about them. It's massively important. So, recognise the problem and address it – but how do we do it though?

I don't think we should ever use the words ‘digital transformation’; I think we should talk about what benefits it brings. So in our world, we’ve got to talk about regulatory transformation. It's about improving services for our core purpose and it's about the people that we serve as a regulator.

I've got a few thoughts from my experience. I don't think we should ever use the words ‘digital transformation’; I think we should talk about what benefits it brings. So in our world, we’ve got to talk about regulatory transformation. It's about improving services for our core purpose and it's about the people that we serve as a regulator.

What we certainly strive to do is to align our transformation to our strategy, and it's important to have the right strategy as well. We spent a long time – years – developing our current strategy of regulatory transformation, so we will lead with that. So, it's a regulatory transformation, as a strategic aim to one of our four aims. We are going to transform ourselves through the use of digital technology, but we're going to talk about it in terms of: what does it bring and how can we be a smarter regulator? How do we deliver regulatory services that improve what we do to become more efficient, to deliver much better services with less burden for providers? How do we help those providers to improve? How do we create an up-to-date picture of quality of care for people that use services?

The last thing I would say is it's not just about the product that we create, and the people that we're serving, it's also about our people – we've got to take them on that journey as well. We’ve talked about the personality of the regulator being a risk-averse entity; we're probably all that in some ways. But actually, if you think about transformation, it's all about change and that's really uncomfortable for people. We've got to take care with our people that as we take them through change, that we really sell to them the benefits of why we're changing. For us at CQC, that is about: streamlining the administration of your activity so that you can do more; spending more time in a job that you love; spending more time with providers; giving you the data and insight that you could never have dreamed of before. It’s very much a benefits approach.

  • To watch the panel discussion live, view the Government Regulatory Technology webinar on demand here
  • To download the UK Government Regulatory Technology Report 2023, click here

Panellist information

Mark Sutton

Mark is the Executive director for Technology, Data & Insight at the Care Quality Commission. CQC is transforming to become a “Smarter Regulator” with technology at the heart of improving the regulatory experience for providers and giving a more up to date picture of quality and safety to the public.

Mark has over 20 years of senior IT leadership and transformation experience across a broad range of industries, including financial services, insurance, retail, healthcare and not-for-profit.

Dr Russell Richardson

Dr Richardson is an experienced competition and regulatory lawyer who has managed various dispute resolutions and multi-discipline litigation before the UK, EU and Grand Cayman courts.

He currently works for the North Sea Transition Authority as its General Counsel and Company Secretary, supporting the Authority on its mission to help drive forward North Sea energy transition.