The increasing digitalisation of the Public Sector

When we think about sectors on the cusp – or indeed in the midst – of full-blown digitalisation, springing to the minds of most would most probably be the likes of automotive, aviation, finance, and manufacturing. Few would have the Public Sector anywhere near the top of such a list, and though there are certainly sectors ahead in the great technological race, it’s a sector that it would be unwise to underestimate.

The fact is, the government and its various agencies are quietly digitalising at a rate that shows no signs of slowing. Innovative technologies such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud are transforming organisations to facilitate the delivery of ever-more inclusive and efficient public services demanded by an increasingly tech-savvy populace. So, what will the future of public sector technology look like?

The robots are coming…

Don’t worry though, we’re not talking about legions of chrome-plated, machinegun-wielding skeletons with glowing red eyes. Yet. The robots we refer to here are little less apocalyptic. Artificial Intelligence (AI) already has the capability and functionality to make a significant impact on public services. Alongside predictive forecasting, it will be highly beneficial in forecasting and enabling service provision.

In October 2017, the government published a report,Growing the artificial intelligence industry in the UK, supporting the use of AI technology in all areas of British industry, including the Public Sector. Indeed, the Culture Secretary at the time of publication, Karen Bradley, said, “We already have some of the best minds in the world working on artificial intelligence, and the challenge now is to build a strong partnership with industry and academia to cement our position as the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business across the UK public sector.”

The vision laid out includes the replacement of expensive local council call centres with AI-powered voice responses, relaying information to citizens, in whatever language or medium they choose day and night. Meanwhile, chatbots will evolve alongside social media to become a primary source of the question and answer interaction between citizen and council. As infrastructures become more sophisticated, this interaction won’t just be typed, it will become verbal.

Smart chatbots will also have the capability to learn, deferring unknown questions to a council officer, but then adding the given answer to a burgeoning knowledge base. Moreover, they’ll be able to “read” data from back office silo databases, and “tell” the citizen what he or she needs to know.

Evolution of data analytics

The use of data analytics in business is now so abundant it barely registers as a conversation topic. Though used in the Public Sector, it has not been with the same level of sophistication. But things are changing, and fast.

Already, we are starting to see services taking on a much more hi-tech citizen-centric approach. There is a concerted move towards what is being termed ‘place-based care’ where governmental organisations, instead of persisting with a ‘fortress mentality’, collaborate to manage the common resources available to them. This place-based care supported by local hyper-directories will be accessed by citizens through dedicated apps.

Such developments are necessary because we are now at a point where there is an expectation that personal information held by a government agency should be accessible to other agencies so processes can be simplified and accelerated. Data analytics will enable better targeting of services in these hyper-directories and be used to expose areas of poor or non-existent provision.

Obviously, intra-Public Sector data sharing does already exist. For example, the DVLA shares data to enable senior railcard applications to be processed without burdening the citizen or necessitating a third party to handle the same evidence. However, over the next few years, such seamless communication is likely to become the norm across all tiers and columns of the government.

The age of the Millennial

Perhaps the most significant driver of technological uptake in the Public Sector, is the fact that senior positions are increasingly being filled by Millennials and digital natives. These newly promoted, tech-familiar managers will not stand for the loss of time and capital to manual processes for which there are digital solutions.

Nor is it just Millennials and digital natives in the upper echelons of the Public Sector who are pressuring for change. Citizens generally are becoming used to interacting with organisations in a way that is fast, paperless and requires little to no human interaction. As time progresses, they will become less and less tolerant of government bodies who fail to offer the same level of service.

Regardless of what generation they belong to, Public Service leaders need to be embracing these upcoming trends now and appreciate the impact of delivering more inclusive public services whilst maintaining digital trust. By observing and replicating the digital innovations abundant throughout the Private Sector, the Public Sector can accelerate and begin to reap the rewards and benefits of a truly digital government.