Technology in the public sector
23rd August, 2021

In this day and age, technology governs the way many businesses operate, but with a high demand for businesses to keep up to date with the digital era, the public sector is often left behind.

With a multitude of technology designed to improve workplace efficiency, from accounting processes and human resources delivery, public sectors are slowly but surely working towards modernising their tech.

One of the main constraints of implementing these changes, is of course the budget available for these public sectors to allocate to these improvements. Technology isn’t cheap, and often difficult internal decisions must be made, often within government bodies, regarding the prioritisation of such new technology. Essentially, the return on investment needs to be worthwhile.

Take for example artificial intelligence, there has been solid experiments and research conducted into the immense impact that AI can have on healthcare sectors. Read more on this here: https://www.nicheofficesolutions.co.uk/technologies-revolutionising-healthcare-in-2021/ but despite all of the benefits AI technology can provide, it  isn’t exactly within the budget of our NHS to get this tech into every hospital around the country.

A brief history of the digital transformation in government

Back in 2011, when the digital transformations within government began, the Government Digital Service (GDS) was introduced. 2 years later, the Government launched the ‘Digital Strategy’, identifying 25 public services to be made ‘digital by default’ which included the creation of the Gov.UK website- allowing citizens to manage and access various services online such as benefits, student loans and registering to vote.

Despite improving the user experience however, it was noticed that these changes didn’t actually improve the efficiency or operations of the public sectors.

Therefore, in 2015, George Osborne, the Chancellor at the time, announced the allocation of an extra £1.8 billion for digital transformations. This 1.8 billion promised ‘far-reaching reforms to create a more productive state, fit for the modern world’

Fast forward to 2018 where there are over 19 digital transformation programmes underway, costing nearly £38 billion. For example, the Home Office’s £145 million Smarter Working Programme designed to improve workspaces, technology, and operations, to HM Courts and Tribunal Services £1.65 billion Reform Programme, which was intended to transform the courts service, including making more cases digital, such as Universal Credit.

However, along the way, there has still been some disruptions in these projects and in the complete shift to digitalisation. Leaving the EU being one of them which slowed the process, as well as highlighting other areas which could benefit from digital transformations such as export processes.

Despite recognising the significant risks in delaying these digital transformations such as jeopardising the future quality and acceptance of these programmes as well as the long-term value for money sacrifices, the incentive to transform has not always been present.

The public sector is renowned for using outdated systems as well as policies, as a short-sighted strategy to save money. Over time, this has led to leadership and management roles becoming more defensive and stubborn to shift from the status quo.

Covid-19 effects on the digital transformations

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the progressions of the digital transformations within the public sector have been remarkable. After the initial crisis response shifted to a new reality, technology and digital changes stepped up to demonstrate the influence technology can have to face the challenges which faced everyday life.

The introduction of the NHS Covid-19 app played a huge role in the management and tracking of the Covid-19 virus, applications such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom were colossal in supporting new ways of remote working and necessary government discussions, and the public access to information and support online was massively increased.

What are the next steps within digital transformations?

5 Categories of New and Emerging Technologies

After the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic resides, many are left wondering what the next progressions for technology within the public sector will be. Whilst others may fear that the introduction of further technology could mean for their job security.

Governments are the largest employers in nearly every country around the world, with the UK being no exception. The UK civil service employs more than 420 thousand people, such as policy advisors and auditors, as well as prison officers’, bailiffs and more. Not taking into consideration the 4.5 million people in the wider public sector, including the NHS and education segments. So, its quite worrying to think that over 800 thousand public sector jobs could be automated by 2030.

However, the fear of redundancy is often misinterpreted as in many cases, technology doesn’t eliminate the necessity of a human workforce, but simply frees up the capability for more high-value work.

There’s no denying that every role has the potential to change with the introduction of technology into the public sector, but it will be more complex and subtle than simply waves of redundancy. Most government workers will see technology augment their work. Machines will automate some routine tasks that are part of their role, but not other, less routine tasks.

One example of this which has already been implemented is the digital kiosks in prisons.

The UK government houses around 84 thousand inmates, with around 20 thousand prison officers to guard and oversee these facilities. In the past, when prisoners would want to access a range of prison services such as purchasing snacks, getting information, or booking visits, all requests were made by paper. However now, at 11 prisons around the UK, this administration work can be eliminated by using the digital kiosks to do these tasks. Which in turn freed up a huge amount of the valuable prison officers time, allowing them to dedicate their worktime to other more valuable areas.

In conclusion, the government has accepted the ways in which technology can transform workplaces for the better, as well as eradicating any challenges which have been experienced in the past. The amounting number of changes won’t be easy, and assessments will be required at every stage to consider the benefits, complications, financial ability and the support which will need to be provided along the way. However, through better organisation, responsibility and planning the shift towards a digital future can be smooth and manageable.

Sources: https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publications?field_themes_tid=All&combine=digital&field_publication_authors=All&sort_bef_combine=field_publication_date+DESC

https://www.smartsheet.com/content-center/executive-center/digital-transformation/3-key-technology-trends-transforming-public-sector