The pandemic forced public sector organisations to adopt a remote-by-necessity working model. As we move towards a permanent hybrid model, IT leaders are faced with a series of challenges to delivering safe, long-term digital transformation.
What’s driving digital transformation within public and not-for-profit sectors?
97 per cent of 2,000+ public servants surveyed by the FDA union wanted the option to work from home; backed by Gartner research showing that four out of 10 employees are at risk of leaving if employers insist they return to the office. Organisations who fail to support flexible forms of working may therefore be vulnerable to higher turnover, lower employee engagement and limitations to attracting future talent.
We explore nine challenges facing public sector IT leaders when it comes to digital transformation.
1. Supporting hybrid working
Employees must be able to work seamlessly between workplace and home, requiring consistent, secure network access. Investments in networking solutions are needed to drive efficiency, productivity, and workplace equity.
Solutions include increasing coverage to account for minimum and maximum download and upload speeds, distributing traffic across the network to prevent backlogs in on-site data centers and enhancing uptime for employees with poor home broadband coverage. The implementation of 5G infrastructure within public services is set to rise, delivering faster connections, low latency, and lower energy consumption.
Consultancy firm EY recommends that an incremental approach that tests ideas is preferable to a “big bang” shift to hybrid arrangements. “Trying to do this top-down – the traditional way of doing it in government – will quickly alienate the workforce so we recommend starting at team level.”
2. Promoting health and safety in the workplace
Public sector organisations must provide a safe office environment where remote working is not an option, but make use of technology and data to optimise the workspace. Space management tools can provide analytics that monitor how employees use the workplace so companies can optimise their space for health and safety
The touchless workplace has begun to take form with tools such as touchless sign-in, access control and infrared temperature screenings. To really put employees at ease, companies should couple these technologies with practices like clearly marked collaboration areas and safety-focused workplace policies.
3. Providing omnichannel, device-agnostic technology
Today’s home office is a mix of various technologies. IT leaders must respond by moving towards a more ‘composable’ technology architecture, delivering a set of components that can be combined to deliver a more effective employee experience.
A study from Unisys found that although 55 per cent of business leaders said adopting the latest technology was key to employee experience, only 43 per cent of employees agreed. It warned that organisations must look beyond simply providing access to the latest technology, but adapt existing technology and processes before investing in new systems
4. Moving to cloud-based technology
Cloud infrastructure enables cost-savings, increases business continuity and gives organisations the flexibility to add on technology and applications when required. In many public sector departments, there has been a reluctance to adopt the cloud amidst security concerns, however there is now an increasing openness to it. The IDC’s 2020 survey revealed that 35 per cent of organisations were planning to accelerate the use of cloud.
It is key that conferencing and collaboration solutions integrate with both front and back-office systems so processes and customer service continue to run smoothly and allow staff to collaborate.
5. Harnessing workplace data
According to the National Audit Office (NAO), digital transformation and data strategies are still poorly understood by leaders in government due to a lack of the same focus on operations seen in the private sector. Central government’s priorities revolve around policy and budgets, which do not necessarily imply an understanding of the operations required for digital change.
Data shows that radical flexibility, rather than monitoring productivity inputs, is what drives performance, but requires a culture of trust, empathy and empowerment, focusing on outcomes rather than activity metrics.
Rox Heaton, from the government’s Digital Data Office, argues that without intelligent data harnessing, organisations pay a premium for consultants and external experts, lose organisational knowledge and ultimately become outdated and ineffective.
6. A spike in demand for IT talent
A research report from CIF and its Public Sector Specialist Interest Group reveals that 40 per cent of public sector organisations do not have the right skills in place to adapt to digital transformation. Alex Hilton, Chief Executive of CIF, says “Working with the technology that underpins digital transformation requires a different skillset from the traditional, proprietary IT technology of the past. A historic governmental reliance on outsourcing ICT to System Integrators (SIs), combined with the cutbacks from austerity, has left many organisations without the skills and staff to confidently adopt new approaches such as the cloud.”
7. Upgrading legacy systems
Gartner’s report, “Redesigning Work for a Hybrid Future”, says that a common problem amongst senior leaders is a failure to deal appropriately with legacy infrastructure. Chad Bond, Deputy Director of Standards and Assurance at the Government Digital Service (GDS), said “Legacy presents a critical security challenge to government…as well as acting as a barrier to transformation.”
Andy Richardson, CTO at govtech investment fund and accelerator PUBLIC, believes that there should be more scope for the agile delivery approach of “test and learn” integrated into the business-case process, citing one of the key challenges as the lack of cohesion within departments. Getting a basic query resolved in a government office often requires multiple desks to get any work done and is one of the biggest roadblocks in their digitisation roadmap.
8. Ensuring equality and diversity via hybrid working
64 per cent of workers fear that working remotely will lead to being treated differently, feeding into fears that a hybrid model will undermine diversity, equity and inclusion and lead to the emergence of a “two-tier” workforce.
However, the opportunity with hybrid working, as opposed to remote, is that much more of the workforce will be having a similar experience; for example, holding meetings online by default.
In Dimensional Research’s report The State of Remote Work, 97 per cent think collaboration features would make them feel more included in meetings, such as technology that ensures all attendees get a chance to contribute; the ability to share non-verbal opinions (thumbs-ups and emojis); non-verbal engagement such as chat windows, and tools such as digital whiteboards. There is also expected to be significant investment in ergonomic technology for the home office to ensure consistency across settings.
9. Addressing cyber vulnerabilities
According to a report by KPMG, shortcuts in the rush to digitise have left public sector organisations with cyber vulnerabilities that urgently need addressing.
Given the legacy estates across governments, the importance of cyber security is a key board risk that needs to be managed proactively. The focus is no longer on a company’s cybersecurity environment but on ensuring every individual’s machine is secure across divisions.
Employees are now connecting their devices to multiple networks, so zero-trust models and multi-factor authentication are becoming the norm as well as tools like cloud access security brokers (CASBs). Organisations might also invest in monitoring software to detect vulnerabilities in employees’ systems. IT teams are expected to partner with HR to educate employees on how to best keep their devices secure
How are IT leaders rising to the challenge?
Now is a good opportunity for IT leaders to push forward with digital investment and upgrades as the business case is now seen as overriding the risks, which include falling behind on productivity due to a failure to automate.
Malta’s government has adopted a blanket hybrid working model for the whole of its civil service, adopting the use of mobile apps and remote coworking spaces. Meanwhile, the borough of Wandsworth & Richmond migrated 4,500 users to remote working in 2020, with the IT team convincing the business to adopt the appropriate technology in just three weeks. CIO Floriana Moline highlights the opportunity for IT to accelerate plans for innovation that were in the long-term pipeline and decommission legacy tech. “It presented an opportunity for IT to be seen in a different light by all departments…as services who’d previously come to us for troubleshooting were now seeking business advice”.
How is digital transformation shaping IT roles and responsibilities?
Hybrid work has elevated IT’s role from operations support to essential business partner. To get to the workplace of the future, enterprises must evolve their relationships with IT leaders and increase investments in IT spending. IT leaders must stay ahead of workplace technology trends, carefully matching solutions with the needs of their employees and business. If successful, their newfound status as business partner will stick around for the long term.
What steps can be taken to prepare/upskill IT teams for the future?
According to the NAO, there is a need for a major shift in market engagement beyond the current commercial process which should include setting up “horizon-scanning” teams working across all categories, as well as proposing a government function – a school of technology – for upskilling leaders to deliver digital change. This would include education on legacy systems, data and the risks of ‘build before buy’ as well as innovation methodologies, design thinking and agile commercial approaches.
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