It’s been a tumultuous year for the public sector, and with Brexit on the horizon, 2019 is set to be equally as turbulent. In terms of technology, this year has seen a significant amount of investment from the government to help improve its systems, but these need to deliver short term and build firm foundations for longer-term transformation. And what new IT trends can we expect to see in the public sector over the next twelve months? The challenges are vast – from reducing operational cost of service provision, to reacting quickly to the changing nature of service demand and political necessities, to dealing with a recognisable shift in the way people and businesses want to be served – but technology is available to help overcome these problems.
- Critical contingency planning for digital government – given the ambiguity which touches just about every public sector department due to Brexit, the government will need to make sure that their IT systems are prepared and poised for every eventuality. There are still many policy and legislative decisions to be made and unknown changes of Brexit that need to be accommodated, some of which might not even be apparent until after March 29th. Furthermore, a deal vs. no deal doesn’t necessarily mean there will be two defined outcomes in terms of what is needed from public sector technology – negotiations could erupt once more, and the fundamental details of the deal may take a significant amount of time to be confirmed. Yet, if Brexit does go ahead in March, then speed of implementation of IT systems is critical for the entire country to function with minimal disruption. For example, it would be an economic catastrophe if the nation’s boarder control couldn’t operate for any period of time because of changes to its IT systems. Low code and no code applications will play a crucial role in updating existing systems, as they will facilitate rapid delivery of applications and will be recognised for their long-term foundational benefits such as re-use and speed of change.
- Training govtech leaders of the future – as they continue to change their relationships with external technology providers and cultivate more inhouse digital talent themselves, public sector departments will start training the leaders of the future to have both tech and commercial skills. Next year, the government will wake up to the fact that a combination of both skill sets are critical to ensuring efficient and effective delivery of IT solutions and that additional government investment is not squandered. Ultimately, leaders with management skills can make sure the most appropriate and relevant technology is implemented. With ever-diminishing budgets, it is crucial that IT teams manage their finances in the most effective way possible and make sure they get the technology right first time.
- Daring to use citizen data – next year will see a growing expectation from the public on the government using their data safely. 2018 has been the year when the word ‘data’ has been tarnished massively as a consequence of scandals including Cambridge Analytica. In addition, the introduction of GDPR has fostered an increased awareness around legitimate use of data, so citizens are increasingly cautious when it comes to how their personal data is being used. Once the government has succeeded in forming a level of trust with citizens, they will be able to share data between departments to provide a higher level of service across the board. One way to cultivate a greater sense of trust could be through a proactive education programme. This should be supported by conscious transparency over how citizen data is used within the public sector and the benefits this can bring to the citizen and business. The spotlight will also be shone on the Data Ethics Framework and whether technology, such as AI, can be used within the public sector without inherent bias coming into play. For example, guaranteeing that AI won’t discriminate against certain pockets of society. There are also plans underway for a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation which will be set up to help govern and regulate data use and AI. This should also restore faith in the public that the government will keep their data safe.
- Technology for travel – this summer saw the queues at Heathrow passport control reach over two and half hours. Imagine how long they could be if Brexit goes ahead without enhanced arrangements! In order to maintain the UK’s position as a global force, it is crucial that people can easily travel in and out of the country with minimal disruption. Although we have already seen the rollout of ePassport gates in a bid to improve the immigration process, next year will introduce the use of biometrics in border control expand. The UK should emulate the Australian Government who want to allow 90 per cent of travellers to pass through passport control without human help by 2020.
- Risk will become a reality – until now, legacy systems have been somewhat of a ball and chain around the government’s neck, holding them back from digital transformation. Over time, new layers of IT have been incorporated into existing old systems, to a point where the public sector’s IT estate is incredibly complicated, similarly seen in the banking sector. Many systems are so old they aren’t even documented or are written in software languages, like COBOL, that are effectively redundant due to lack of skilled resources to support and change them. It could also hold back transition to the cloud. Furthermore, some first-generation digital systems are now legacy themselves and pose similar challenges to transformation. In 2019, one of these legacy systems will break, so it’s important to have a modern unified enterprise platform to achieve fast results with low risk.
2019 is fraught with ambiguity for the public sector, therefore reliable, stable and efficient IT systems have never been more important for it to function efficiently and effectively meeting the needs of society. As the next twelve months unfold and the outcome of Brexit becomes clearer, we will see how the UK public sector comes to terms with how it must deliver efficiencies, keep up with policy changes and, all throughout, serve its constituents as they expect and deserve.
Peter Ford, Public Sector Industry Principal, Pegasystems
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