Rob Walton, Industry Director – Public Sector, Six Degrees, discusses how the public sector must rebuild trust by implementing robust and flexible data security infrastructure
While every industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the public sector has perhaps faced the most scrutiny – especially when it comes to the efficacy of the systems and technology it has in place. The public doesn’t accept any margin for error at the best of times, but when you combine the integral role it plays in our lives and the high-pressure circumstances the world finds itself in today, it’s understandable why emotions are high. Just think back to an incident last year in which 16,000 coronavirus cases were lost due to a Microsoft Excel misunderstanding, and you start to get the picture.
The fact of the matter is the way citizens expect to access and use services has changed. In a day and age where you can check both your bank balance and blood pressure in a couple of minutes, people expect services to be convenient and instantaneous. As a portal to an array of services, the public sector front-line has the added pressure of being all things to all people. Lockdown has led to a rise in Jobseeker’s allowance claims, while Brexit has brought in the mammoth process that is the EU Settlement Scheme.
However, while we continue seeing efforts to meet growing citizen expectations for easily accessible services, we’ve not quite reached a point where we have the full confidence of the UK general public. In a country where there are over 40 million users of a certain social media platform that faces frequent privacy concerns, 68% of citizens don’t trust public authorities to oversee their data securely.
In 2021, the only way to address this issue is by re-evaluating our approach towards, and relationship with, technology. The good news is that now is the perfect time to act. While the events of the last year have challenged all industries, they have pushed the public sector in particular out of its comfort zone and into a land of opportunity.
Flexible technology to mirror flexible times
As a response to the pandemic, the public sector workforce – like many others – has become dispersed yet remained connected through the systems it has put in place to support remote working practices. Some departments have found quickly that legacy systems don’t quite hit the mark in the current situation, and have looked to the G-Cloud and Network Services frameworks to procure cloud-based options that are better suited to meeting today’s and tomorrow’s needs.
This move away from legacy systems and re-evaluation of the systems in place, the very same thing that has successfully moved us from ‘workplace’ to ‘workspace’, is the key to helping build public trust. Having the right set-up in place can go a long way in building trust in public sector systems. Even the integration of chat functions or more ‘self-serve’ systems for citizens is a huge step in making citizens aware that the sector is moving with the times and catering to their lifestyles.
Other public sector efforts over the last few years such as office rationalisation have meant that we aren’t starting from scratch in our exploration of more flexible and scalable infrastructures – it would have been a natural progression with or without the current state of the world.
Baked-in security for baked-in trust
If making services more readily available is the key to building public sector trust, cyber security is like taking out an insurance policy on your new-build – it should be a no-brainer. Especially when you consider the sensitive data the sector handles, and the potential impact of anything going wrong. There was a reported 350% rise in phishing attacks when lockdown started a year ago, as well as a rise in ransomware attacks and data breaches. Cyber threat actors are using mass-remote working as an opportunity to find new vulnerabilities to exploit. Ensuring that the systems and tools in place have security and compliance ‘built-in’ at their core provides a crucial safety barrier, as well as encouraging public confidence.
There’s never really a dull moment when it comes to the public sector journey, and that is even more true of the last year. From COVID-19 lockdowns to Brexit-related admin it’s a busy time for many, but this shouldn’t stop the sector from thinking beyond keeping itself up and running. Taking steps to improve the experience of the public will pay dividends in the long run. In a strange twist of fate for departments who have remote working strategies in place, it’s never been a better time to act.
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