The state of the digital nation in the public sector

digital nation
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Sally Murdoch, Director – Public Sector Marketing at Unit4, considers the state of the digital nation in the public sector, including whether or not it is drawing back the curtain on the back office

Five key findings on transformation challenges and opportunities for innovation

Around the world, the public sector has excelled at providing a vast range of services on tight budgets and amid volatile conditions. Teams have had to meet surging demand, develop agile ways of working and adopt remote working in an instant.

Often, tech-savvy and frontline services have received all the innovation and plaudits. But now it’s time for back-office teams and their digital transformation to take the limelight.

With this in mind, we’d like to present key findings from State of the Digital Nation, the first annual, global survey of digital transformation across the public sector that explores the challenges and successes of the back-office innovation, produced by Unit4 in partnership with Vanson Bourne.

Key finding: 1)

Significant changes have happened within the public sector over the past two years, but many organisations are struggling to adapt.

Almost every respondent in the survey (99%) saw changes to their services or targets outside of the impacts of COVID-19 over the past two years.

And 95% of respondents who’ve seen changes have struggled with them – most often facing a resisting leadership team (44%), a resisting workforce (42%), and back-office systems that do not allow for agility or adaptability (38%).

Key finding: 2)

Digital transformation remains top of the agenda — but issues, such as internal alignment, mean there’s still a way to go.

Researchers found that 95% of organisations have a digital transformation strategy, but only 29% consider it fully implemented. For those yet to arrive, their digital destination seems two and a half years away on average.

This is perhaps one of the most significant takeaways from the report — and should ring alarm bells among executives. Already, the public sector lags behind other verticals and there’s the risk of that gap widening, with two and a half years as a rolling target that’s never reached.

Intent exists, but without the delivery Within the public sector, there are relatively low levels of adoption of different technologies that improve back-office systems. Among respondents who lack confidence in their organisation’s ability to transform effectively, the most common reason is a lack of internal alignment.

Key finding: 3)

People value the benefits of digital transformation. But specific issues are keeping the ‘gold standard’ out of reach.

86% of respondents believe that people lack the right skills and training to adapt to changes. 99% of those using or exploring SaaS applications report challenges, including management complexity, time to manage SaaS vendors, and security concerns. And only 9% report that data is compatible across all applications, with no duplication of data entry or transfer in any cases.

This last point is crucial as many public sector organisations’ have multiple systems that support an array of different services – and to operate efficiently, data across all these systems must be readily and securely available.

Key finding: 4)

After funding peaks and troughs, public sector organisations need to balance the books — and many face cutbacks as the obvious step for ongoing business operations.

Sudden changes in funding (both up and down) brought about by the pandemic mean that organisations’ need to work out how to manage the allocation and reporting of funds, quickly, accurately, and flexibly.

Many organisations are considering radical steps. 95% are looking to make cost savings – most commonly by making cuts to desperately needed services. This is highest for emergency services (54%). When making cuts, 35% of organisations would look to make redundancies and 22% would invoke pay freezes. Others still are considering outsourcing or shared services – or even closing or selling buildings.

Although most have focused on speed, quantity and cost-effectiveness of services, the pandemic has opened the door to innovation. As KPIs and targets change while we work towards the new normal, meeting the needs of citizens and the challenges of mandated targets will only get more complex. Meeting targets will require ever greater leveraging of technology to provide automation of core workflows and back-office tasks.

Key finding: 5)

Even though their organisations’ struggle at times, professionals have a clear idea of what digital transformation should look like in their workplace.

Respondents were asked what they would prioritise if they could redesign their back-office processes from scratch.

  1. Real-time data and reporting to ensure reports are up to date and instant.
  2. Predictive analytics for workforce planning and forecasting.
  3. Automation to deploy people with the right skills at the right time to the right location


Your partner in public service excellence

At Unit4, we’ve specialised in software products for service organisations, where people make the difference. Our technology is central to the organisations we serve — it improves efficiency and productivity and allows people to spend more time on meaningful work.

Our public sector software solutions focus on People Experience to help free your teams to do more of what matters: delivering greater value. Our solutions for finance and HR are enabling public sector organisations to boost productivity, reduce costs, effectively plan for the future, and do even better for the people you serve.

Here’s a little of what our customers have achieved using our solutions:

Collaboration & automation deliver substantial savings

South Wales Police and Gwent Police now have a shared ERP strategy that’s improving services for the citizens and achieving greater efficiency through process automation – achieving £4 million a year in annual savings.Both forces have achieved better outcomes with the right police resources deployed at the right location, at the right time, and with the right skills.

Joined-up digital services save a fortune

Southampton City Council has made substantial savings thanks to integrated finance and HR in the cloud, best-practice process automation, and intuitive self-service. Benefits include complete visibility and control of procurement, saving around £200,000 per annum; unified HR and payroll savings worth £80,000 annually; a cloud strategy that saves £40,000 each year; and a further £70,000 saved by eliminating legacy software.

Intelligent analysis drives greater efficiency

East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust is making fast, trusted financial planning decisions that help to improve service and increase efficiency. The trust has eliminated reliance on manual, fragmented spreadsheets. Instead, it has a single platform for its financial planning needs, from planning cash-flow and operational budgets to forecasting monthly costs – making financial budgeting and forecasting one-third faster and significantly more accurate.


Ready to learn more?

Check out the full results of the State of the Digital Nation survey in our latest whitepaper here.


*This is a commercial profile.

© 2019. This work is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.

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Public Sector Marketing Director
Phone: +44 (0)118 207 6767
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