Emerging technologies are sparking U.K. government innovation

Public sector agencies in the U.K. and globally may not be early adopters, but they are looking to next-gen technologies to overcome their most persistent challenges. Encumbered by outdated legacy IT infrastructure, regulatory issues and an organisational culture which often slows government innovation, technology leaders are now piloting, testing and implementing solutions using emerging technology.

Government leaders want to find ways to improve service delivery for citizens, adapt to changes in their mission and bring greater numbers of skilled professionals into government.  In a recent Accenture survey , 774 public service technology professionals from nine countries shared their views on the benefits of technology in accomplishing these goals. U.K. leaders say their top challenges include the need to improve service delivery (57 per cent), respond to changing mission demands (53 per cent), and adapt to an aging workforce (42 per cent).  

The resulting research, Emerging Technologies in Public Service from Accenture shows that government officials view citizen satisfaction as the number one reason to consider cutting edge tech like video analytics, biometrics, machine learning and the Internet of Things. Nearly all U.K. respondents said that they had a business case in place for video analytics and they were either in process or completed their implementation. Globally the trend is not as robust, only two-thirds (70 per cent) of public sector agencies say they are evaluating the potential of advanced technologies and only a small per centage (25 per cent) are moving beyond the pilot phase to full implementation. 

Advanced analytics leads the way

Emerging technologies -- like advanced analytics that include predictive modelling and machine learning -- are making the biggest impact. Adoption of analytics/modelling is greatest in pension/social security agencies and revenue departments and is the furthest advanced in the U.K. (82 per cent).

Interestingly, policing and justice agencies are the slowest adopters of advanced analytics globally but the U.K. again leads the trend. For instance, Kent Police, like their counterparts in the Los Angeles Police Department , are using evolving algorithms to predict and prevent crime.  Public safety and policing are using the technology to pinpoint small areas on maps where crime is predicted to occur. Police are able then to use the information to make decisions on how they will deploy their resources each day.

Intelligent technologies benefits

There are high expectations for intelligent technology projects and UK leaders say they expect good outcomes, including reduced risk and improved security (86 per cent); innovation and development of new services and applications (57 per cent) and improved efficiency through the automation of existing processes (47 per cent).    

A good use of automation is already underway at the U.K. Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The agency is using a combination of natural language processing, machine learning and intelligent automation to read, decipher and categorise incoming correspondence – as well as routing it and flagging it to appropriate personnel. Intelligently processing messy unstructured inputs relieves staff of tedious and frustrating work, and frees them up to take on to more complex projects. The DWP is proving that it can automate more than 42 per cent of baseline and projected demand without any improvements in their processes. Should improvements be made to image quality, processes and categorisation, potential automation rates could rise to more than 50 per cent.    

Working leaner and smarter

Only 20 per cent of U.K. public sector technology professionals said that budget concerns were one of their top challenges. Given many years of budget contraction agencies are now used to working leaner, but nearly half say that implementing intelligent technologies has reduced costs because it allows them to work smarter. The research also shows that respondents are willing to adopt solutions perfected in the private sector and enter into public-private partnerships. This may mean that government leaders are considering cost effective options like buying technology as a service, rather than owning the technology, and rewarding vendors on their performance and outcomes.    

Leadership’s role    

Lack of leadership support (49 per cent) and understanding the potential of emerging technologies is second only to legacy IT systems (58 per cent) as the toughest practical barrier for U.K. public service agencies to overcome. Senior management is willing to support development of emerging technologies but lack a clear understanding of the benefits and implementation challenges according to IT leaders. 

Considering that more than one quarter of U.K. respondents say hiring and developing people with the right skills is one of their top challenges, it’s clear that decision makers need to be involved and champion technology upgrades and drive them through the organisation. On a global scale, lack of engagement and support from policy makers is also cited as a significant barrier.     

Employee skills gap

Not surprisingly, an urgent need to develop in-house skills and recruit data and other emerging technology specialists comes through clearly in the results. Half of agencies’ leads are looking to hire talent from the private sector. And about the same number say that implementing advanced analytics and predictive modelling would improve and support the work that current agency employees are doing. In the U.K. intelligent process automation is seen as the best solution to address the ability to hire people with the right skills and to close the gap when experienced staff leave for the private sector or retire.  The highest demand skill sets for the U.K. government include machine learning specialists, data scientists and research and development staff.   

Public service agencies are demonstrating in the U.K. and globally that they have high expectations for emerging technologies.  If over the next few years government leaders continue to deliver value and adopt and drive emerging technologies, they will create profound change in government.     

Chris Gray, Managing Director, Health and Public Service, Accenture
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