Steven Cox, Executive Director and Vice President for Public Sector, Fujitsu UK & Ireland
In today’s digital era, the pressure is on for governments and local authorities to be more efficient than ever before while also innovating to help deliver on the digital expectations of citizens. This is especially important as the private sector’s success with digital has grown with industries like retail and financial services leading a digital charge.
Governments around the world are already starting to embrace digitalisation to drive cost efficiencies and satisfy a new generation of digital-first citizens who expect information and services to be readily available online, at no cost to them. However, in order to reach these targets, public sector organisations must address some challenges that lie in the way of true digital transformation.
Addressing today’s challenge
In a recent report from Fujitsu – “Walking the Digital Tightrope” – half (52%) of public sector organisations surveyed in Europe admitted that improving operational efficiency is the main priority on the digital agenda. Despite this, there is also resistance to digital adoption, with a quarter (26%) of respondents saying they have no appetite for it.
This comes as a shock given the fact that digital can offer a whole host of advantages, from productivity to new client services, and the public sector must address the difficulties it has faced so far to realise these benefits. Organisations such as Northern Ireland Causeway have benefited from digital in a range of different ways, including fewer paper-based systems and a digital shared service for employees.
While digital may not need to be the number one priority for all public sector organisations or departments, it needs to be on their agenda. After all, the ultimate purpose of all government should be to serve the public in the way they need and want to be served. In a world where two thirds of UK citizens own a smartphone and use it for nearly two hours every day, the message is clear – digital is a priority.
Strategic digital investment
Yet Fujitsu’s research also revealed that digital confidence is similarly divided. While 28% of public sector IT decision-makers are extremely confident in advising their business on digital choices, 15% aren’t confident at all.
So what does this mean? It seems like the sector is confused about the best course of action when it comes to digital transformation. Overall, the sector seems to lack digital direction.
Although public sector organisations are low in digital confidence and direction, the solutions may be more obvious than organisations realise. While 58% of organisations admit that their digital projects are considered gambles, strategy and skill are two fundamental elements to help improve this.
To take advantage of digital services, public bodies need to consider the digital opportunities available to them and evaluate the benefits that these initiatives could bring. For example, Fujitsu has worked with Cafcass to provide staff with the tools, processes, support and information to allow them to be a truly empowered and connected workforce.
Cafcass had a clear strategy from the beginning. It knew the business and how it wanted to improve, and chose Fujitsu to work with them to address those needs. Fujitsu delivers end-to-end services that have brought benefits to staff and ultimately the families and children they serve.
All staff have been given 4G laptops or tablets allowing them to work flexibly at home, in the office, at court, or when travelling to visit service users. Video-conferencing has also reduced the need to travel to offices for meetings.
Cafcass has also become almost entirely paperless. Fujitsu has digitised more than 2.5 million images so digital case files could be made available online. This means social workers no longer have to transport heavy case bundles to court.
On top of this, a new electronic case management system drastically reduces the time taken by social workers on case bureaucracy, freeing up more time for staff to focus on looking after the children.
Digitalisation can also offer improved back-end services. In September 2015, David Cameron announced that he would aim to run public services like businesses to increase efficiency. This would include the streamlining of back office functions. Through shared services, digitalisation can offer the opportunity to group different departments together that require the same functions, such as finance, IT and HR, to provide efficiencies and achieve savings.
Being able to assess and implement digital projects also requires a certain level of digital skill. In a report in December 2015, techUK identified a clear gap in digital skills and leadership in the public sector acting as a barrier to digital progress. It is certainly valuable for organisations to have some digital skills in house. While this can be achieved through the recruitment of digitally skilled employees, it must be balanced with the cost of recruiting expensive contractors. Public bodies can also make use of in-house digital natives to mentor less experienced staff and share their views on how digital can be deployed.
To augment in house digital expertise public sector bodies should also make better use of their relationships with IT suppliers. IT partners can be a valuable resource for digital insight, particularly when organisations are scoping and planning digital projects. It is possible to consult with industry stakeholders without compromising the procurement process, and holding suppliers at arms’ length is not necessarily to public bodies’ advantage.
Taking the digital leap of faith
In the age of digital transformation, technology is enabling experimentation with new ideas more quickly, more cheaply and easily, thanks to the surging connections between people, information and technology that are helping to drive innovation.
The public sector needs to embrace the digital challenge and establish strategies to effectively switch to digital, all while minimising risk and cost. For the public sector in particular, this is also about public bodies becoming aware of the level of digital skill and awareness in-house and how third parties can support this.
Despite the ever-changing public sector budgets, digital really does have the potential for a high return on investment. While taking the digital leap of faith may come with short term inefficiencies, the long run benefits are undeniable.