Part 1: Challenges and opportunities for digital transformation in the public sector

The UK government has been taking steps towards digital transformation for over five years now, having launched its first strategy to become ‘digital by default’ back in March 2012. In this blog series, we’ll be looking at how far the public sector has come since then, starting today by looking at the challenges it still faces, along with the opportunities that digitisation uniquely presents to the sector.

When another Government Transformation Strategy policy paper was released in February 2017, it detailed the progress that’s been made so far and explored the finer details of what the strategy’s roll-out really means for public sector organisations and citizens between now and 2020. In particular, it highlighted the need for digital transformation to run deeper than ever and to achieve ‘joined-up services that run seamlessly across government’ allowing data to flow more easily between departments.

When considering this, we should keep in mind that the UK government is leading the way when it comes to public sector digital transformation, with many other countries adopting similar models. The Government Digital Service (GDS) is responsible for rolling out many digital services to citizens, including online portals and much more. The service has even won an award for its website. But the fact is that challenges still remain when it comes to realising the full advantages of digitisation in the UK’s public sector.Challenges to digital transformation in the public sector

It may be a tired argument, but there’s no doubt that spending cuts and lack of funding continue to present a huge challenge. The desire to change is there, along with the willingness to adapt workflows and tools with a view to better meeting citizen needs, but the financial capability rarely matches up.

To make things trickier, those citizen needs are constantly changing. As the private sector reaps the rewards of technological development, we’re all becoming used to experiencing seamless transactions and services in our every day lives. So, when interacting with a public sector organisation, it can feel frustrating and prohibitive if and when that same level of seamlessness is not delivered. Progress has been made, but financial pressures combined with an ageing and growing population means the public sector faces something of an uphill climb when it comes to meeting our expectations through technology.

Another challenge that remains is the fact that many public sector organisations are large and complex, having been built up over many years and often relying on legacy infrastructure. In fact, a recent study found that ‘legacy technology and supplier lock-in’ can be significant obstacles to cloud adoption. And while many more digital and technology specialists have been recruited across government since 2012 to help achieve digital transformation, there remains a skills gap.

The challenge is that public sector organisations have many plates to spin when aiming for effective transformation. They need solutions that enable them to manage risks and meet compliance standards, while improving both user experience and employee productivity – all set against a backdrop of needing to make efficiency savings and cost reductions.

Opportunities of digital transformation in the public sector

As difficult as they may be to deploy, advancements in technology present a huge opportunity to public sector organisations. From cloud-based solutions that support mobile and remote working to security management systems that prevent infrastructure downtime and help organisations meet compliance regulations in a more cost-effective, efficient way.

Who could forget the fact that we’re now a matter of weeks away from the arrival of the GDPR. From medical records to legal documents and criminal databases, the public sector holds a wealth of public data, all of which will be subject to much tighter regulations from May 2018 onwards. There aren’t many organisations that will feel more impact than those in the public sector. So, it should be viewed as an opportunity to make significant efficiency savings and, ultimately, deliver a much better experience to the end user.

The fact is that digital transformation can save public sector organisations money. Whether it’s in the back office or on the frontline, switching to cloud-based operations can result in significant efficiency and productivity gains, both of which mean getting more, for less – which should be music to the ears of public sector bosses.

For more insights, read our blog: What digital transformation challenges face the public sector when it comes to telecoms?