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Taking unique initiatives and making them universal: How tech innovations in the public sector can help the greater good

(Image credit: Image Credit: John Williams RUS / Shutterstock)

According to a recent policy paper published by the U.K.’s Government Digital Service, “technology innovation is vital for the public sector.” Having the latest artificial intelligence (AI) or cloud abilities can make a huge difference to the type and quality of work able to be produced by organisations such as the NHS and central government, including the potential to truly save lives. The challenge, however, is that public sector organisations rarely have the budgets that private sector businesses can allow for as most funding goes directly to the basics of keeping the services running for the public.

In the SolarWinds survey,  IT Pro Day 2018: A World Powered by Tech Pros, public sector IT professionals were asked which technology they would use to solve broader societal issues, if they had the time to do so. The results showed that AI/machine learning, cloud, and big data analytics were the top three choices, reflecting that, in the opinions of public sector tech professionals, these are the ones that could be used to bring about the most good.

The encouraging news is that there are already ways in which these technologies are being used in the public sector, just a few of which include:

  • AI
    One example of where AI is being implemented to benefit the public sector is in cancer screening. Researchers have developed a device that can use light to detect tiny electromagnetic changes that are present in tissue when cancer cells develop. This means that patients don’t need to experience high levels of radiation when being diagnosed. This could lead to improved accessibility to screening as well as lower costs overall.
  • Cloud computing
    In 2013, the U.K. government introduced the Cloud First policy, which stated that when choosing new or updated services, central government departments must fully evaluate cloud solutions before considering alternatives. While the policy is mandatory for central government departments, it is not the case for the wider public sector, although it is strongly encouraged. Cloud solutions could benefit a range of organisations by providing flexible and cost-effective services and increasing the ability for collaboration between departments and organisations, leading to better services for the public. It also provides an essential foundation for adopting other technologies, such as AI and big data analytics, which are also in demand.
  • Big data analytics
    Predictive crime mapping is a big data technique that is beginning to be implemented by some police forces in the U.K. By using previous crime statistics, police officers can estimate the likelihood of a crime occurring in a given location at various times. All officers can access this data, which they can then use on patrol to strategically cover the areas that, in theory, are more likely to be at risk of criminal activity at different times of the day or night.

How to turn transformative tech into typical

As these examples show, there is a range of technologies currently available that can benefit society as a whole if they could all be implemented more widely in the public sector. These innovative technologies can not only save lives, but they can also help save money. The cost savings can be reinvested in other under-funded areas of the public sector, and they will increase efficiency and productivity, as employees save time on the tasks that these technologies are taking on.

However, more foundational work needs to be done to successfully integrate these exceptions into becoming the norm, not the exception. Taking the examples above, for the new AI device used for cancer screening to be rolled out across every hospital, the NHS would require increased investment in new skills for its employees to help them understand how AI can be utilised to the best of its abilities. And while the Cloud First policy is making great waves in central government, adoption is still not widespread, as many institutions still do not see the overall benefit. For the police, predictive crime mapping is only being used in Manchester and Kent, but the value that this technique could have if carried out in every U.K. police force would be immense. However, it would require more network co-ordination and insight sharing to become a reality.

It is clear there are challenges facing these organisations that are slowing down the integration process. But what are these, and how can they be overcome?

Understanding the Benefits

Despite the improvements that employees working directly with these transformative technologies are undoubtedly seeing, there can be a lack of understanding at a senior level around how investing in tech now will pay off in the long term. The senior staff responsible for determining new investments may benefit from considering the different developments that are being made, along with taking a step-by-step approach to implementation to ensure that the technology is being deployed in a way that creates the greatest good for the general public.

Employee Training

Across the public sector, there will be a need for increased training for employees to enable them to work with any innovative technologies before they can be introduced. While systems such as AI can take on many tasks themselves, it is important to not forget the need for employees to monitor and manage these to receive the best results, as most AI still needs to be supervised.

Supporting Infrastructure

Having the right infrastructure in place is one of the most crucial aspects of tech integration. For an organisation like the NHS, for example, being on a predominantly paper-based system means that some newer technologies would be more challenging to adopt, as the technology foundations should be in place before more varied systems are added. Ensuring aspects like the security, longevity, and manageability of a system from the design phase onwards will be critical to ensure that new technologies are deployed effectively and achieving the desired return on investment.

At the same time, these types of management tools will help overcome many of the early concerns that public sector leaders have about new initiatives, such as the ability to demonstrate value, or ensuring security and managing risk. As a result, choosing and deploying these types of tools should go hand-in-hand with new technology deployments to ensure that the public sector is achieving the greatest possible results.

With the IT Pro Day 2018: A World Powered by Tech Pros survey highlighting the areas that tech pros themselves believe would bring about the most benefits overall, the key message to take from this is that as more and more transformative technologies are developed, organisations across the public sector can incorporate these in different ways to work towards greater efficiency and service. And with increased awareness and understanding, the great initiatives already underway can become the norm, not the exception.

Sascha Giese, Head Geek, SolarWinds
Image Credit: John Williams RUS / Shutterstock