Digital transformation in the public sector

Richard Whomes, director of sales engineering, Rocket Software, explains how digital transformation can improve and boost the public sector

In the UK, the public sector is still heavily reliant on older IT infrastructure, which can significantly hamper the ability of staff to deliver the high-level of service that we have come to expect thanks to pioneering industries such as retail and logistics. And despite the introduction of a range of online services, there is still a long way to go until the public service can boast a truly efficient digital strategy. These challenges sit alongside squeezed governmental budgets and added pressure in the form of cutbacks. The result: a combination of pressures that has many in the public sector calling for a complete digital transformation strategy as a solution to its service problems.

But what does the term ‘digital transformation’ really mean and how feasible is it? A study by Accenture highlights that for an organisation to ‘digitally transform’ it must put 'organisational, operational, and technological foundations in place that foster constant evolution and cross-functional collaboration'. Fortunately, preparing for this transformation is possible by modernising existing technologies without needing to throw everything out and start from scratch, which means far greater efficiency without the eye-watering financial investment. It’s time to transform thanks to the new demands on your IT system.

Baby boomer strain – cost-cutting is a must
In an era of austerity, the aging population is a big driver for improved efficiency in the public sector. Baby boomers retiring from the workforce in large numbers are placing a strain on the state in the form of pensions, healthcare spending and other associated welfare costs. Improved, more effective technology and processes are an obvious route to cost savings, particularly now that personnel costs have grown and technology costs have decreased. In fact, replacing personnel with technology in some circumstances not only brings down costs, but also reduces the number of errors.

Services on demand
New technologies are being incorporated into almost all areas of our lives, whether we are booking a holiday or doing a weekly food shop. We’ve come to expect easy access to online services across multiple devices regardless of if we are out and about or at home. This demand translates to public services, which is reliant on incumbent technology that can’t deliver the same efficient service when it comes to fast-moving, front-end customer interactions.

The skills gap
Technology is evolving quickly, but some of the programmers that are currently supporting 20- to 30-year-old systems don’t have the right skills to cope with the newer applications of the digital world. Conversely, the millennial generation of newly-qualified programmers graduating from college with the latest digital know-how may not be able to apply their skills to older machines.

A multi-speed IT architecture
Ultimately, the aim of digital transformation should be to achieve a multi-speed IT environment, which means implementing flexible, fast-moving IT systems to carry out the dynamic customer-facing processes alongside the slower-speed systems required to carry out back-end, critical applications. The defining feature of multi-speed is a feedback loop, which allows systems-testing to take place on a continuous basis, ensuring that each iteration is used to improve the end-user’s services. If you can achieve this, you will have modernised your IT system without having to re-code or replace it. So, how do you go about digital transformation? By producing a coherent strategy.

A data-first approach
Data is often kept in silos across different parts of local government and even within different elements of the same department, meaning that it can’t be compared or analysed together. Data virtualisation technologies leave the original data in place, but create a “virtual” version of it, which is a real-time reflection of the stored version. This means that you can combine it with other virtualised data and make it available to “high speed” applications without the time, cost and potential errors of physically moving the data out of its original home.

Real time analytics
Among the most important high speed applications to use on your data are today’s analytics tools, which allow you to truly extract value from your information. For example, analysing aggregate data on crime combined with reports from case workers may help officials identify young people who need the most attention from public organisations. This data is held in entirely separate databases, but can be analysed together to provide essential insights for the community.

Create your own API economy
Lastly, the use of open APIs within your own organisation can be an easy way to get around the onerous traditional approach of application development. By ensuring that your applications can all be accessed through APIs, opening them to both internal and external developers, you can dramatically improve the ways in which they are used. And you can do this without the need to rewrite or re-code anything. Being able to share information with other public bodies as well as private sector partners can dramatically improve the scale of available service. Using APIs also relieves some of the pressure to re-train current staff. The current staff can continue to program the back-end applications, while these APIs make it easy to employ the new millennial generation of application developers to work on the front-end activity.

A better, more accurate service
By the strategic use of data virtualisation, business intelligence and APIs, public bodies can transform their IT systems. It’s an approach that can happen steadily, without dramatic changes or the risk of alarming periods of downtime during which citizens are unable to access services. And most importantly, it means that the public sector can provide a far better service at a lower cost.

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