Dnyanesh Kale, Advisory Director at 6point6, explores the possibility that COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digital transformation in the public sector
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created scenarios not visualised by many businesses, including many areas of the public sector. The lockdown and the drive to quickly and effectively control the pandemic is precipitating major changes at a pace to policy-making and public services as a result, which would usually occur over a much longer timeframe.
The impact so far
The need for rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis has definitely caused many departments to accelerate changes and deliver them in a matter of hours and days, which might have taken years to deliver in normal circumstances.
There have also been significant policy and economic obstacles as a result of the pandemic, with operations needing to be transformed to meet new demands. We’re also bearing witness to the fact that the crisis has thrown up massive challenges to which government policy has to rapidly respond and adapt. Operations have been rapidly reconfigured to align with the current needs and demands. For example, the usual security protocols blocking remote working have been rapidly upgraded to ensure operations can continue as remotely as possible without compromising security and privacy.
During lockdown, when we have borne witness to an unprecedented surge in remote working across the UK, government departments have needed to move the delivery of their services across to digital channels, computers and mobile devices. Processes that have historically demanded physical interactions are now having to be reimagined. The pandemic has forced us to challenge every step that needed a face to face human interaction and seek alternatives. As such, UK government departments are needing to invest in emerging technologies at pace, as well as their applications for delivering customer-facing services.
Digital health services launched by the NHS have seen huge uptick during coronavirus, such as the NHS App growing 111% in March. Meanwhile, the delivery speed and efficiency of digital agile projects have vastly improved via the leveraging of collaboration technologies.
Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are vital in providing scalability and reducing cost, on top of integrating digital services effectively, and as such, is being onboarded at speed. Already championed by the Government Digital Service as a critical pillar of digital transformation, investment in them by the public sector has historically been held back by legacy systems. There are many uncertainties about the nature of the post-pandemic world. As a result, we need to rapidly release new services that are flexible and at scaleable.
The path ahead
There is no doubt that we will continue to witness the rapid digitalisation of services, with these increasingly being provided and distributed via the internet. While prior to coronavirus, every solution was developed considering both non-digital and digital channels, this will no longer be the case. Non-digital channels would be less important and will see less uptake from the customers. Cloud and mobility technologies would no longer be merely optional, but are becoming the minimum needed in order to compete in the evolving marketplace. This will speed up the delivery of new services. Driven by the changing attitude towards adopting digital services, there will be an increase in demand for digitalised services that can be accessed remotely since the way we work will have altered forever.
The coronavirus pandemic has also illuminated the role that projection models can play in rapidly and accurately predicting the outcome of scenarios. Government departments are therefore likely to draw on the success of other countries and apply technologies including AI and machine learning to empower improved analytics and predictions to track the pandemic growth.
New technologies are also being applied in new ways. Having successfully adopted AI and prediction modelling technologies, departments would look for their applications in other areas to drive operational efficiencies with better and quicker decision making. For example, dynamic purchasing systems which will be able to help government buyers in-service procurement, and investment in bot-powered omnichannel experiences enabling better integration between digital and call channels.
Up until COVID-19, inter-departmental integration was heavily driven by human intervention. Looking ahead, however, departments will begin implementing system-to-system integrations to share data and insights. This will minimise human intervention with a growing use of automation and faster turnarounds.
Coronavirus is serving as a wake-up call to areas of the public sector that have focused too much on daily operational needs at the detriment of investing in digital technology and long-term resilience. Departments able to make effective investments to digital platforms will adapt more successfully long-term. Digital transformation will improve the overall ability of the government to provide good-quality services and better respond to changes in the environment and policies in the future.
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