The Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation (Socitm) has published its yearly report outlining key public sector digital trends for 2022, with highlights including a greater focus on systems interoperability and integration, as well as an acceleration in the way organisations harness data.
Despite being heavily influenced by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the report elaborates how a number of key developments relating to technology will affect decision-making in the public sector.
According to Jos Creese (socitm’s past president and associate director), the next months will not be about IT exploitation or management but about a true transformational impact on citizens.
“This includes solving issues that hinder deeper collaboration among public service organisations around individual citizens needs, including those without a ‘digital footprint ‘,”, wrote Socitm president Sam Smith in the report’s preface.
While many government agencies already put citizens at the heart of their digital initiatives and have increased efforts in response to the pandemic, Smith said that such practices are not “universal”.
” Many organisations continue to design digital services from the ‘inside-out’. This can lead to inefficiency, productivity, and the adoption new models of service delivery. Smith said.
Public sector organizations will face challenges over the next months. These include new austerity, post-Covid “catchup”, new partnership models, growing digital risks, and the possibility of a pandemic that could still be a reality in years to come. The report states that digital design and thinking will be crucial to how the public sector IT teams will deal with these obstacles .
In this difficult context, the briefing stated that the public service would need to rethink the way it organises public services to make use of digital solutions and face-to-face delivery.
This will entail acting in areas such as normalising new ways of working while offering staff the necessary digital infrastructure, which in turn needs to be revisited in terms of priorities, risks, investments and management methods.
IT will need to be reviewed in order to keep pace with the digital pace of organisations moving towards a new stage of digital progress. The report noted that new delivery models will be increasingly complex in 2022, as public awareness grows around themes such as data protection, digital including and automated decision systems.
The research also warns that the public will become more intolerant of poor-designed digital services or have to deal with the lack effective and safe data sharing among public service organizations.
Outlining three tasks for senior IT leaders in delivery successful digital solutions for citizens, the research outlined the need to review IT and digital strategies, prioritising the technology areas outlined throughout the report.
The briefing also encouraged leaders to recognize the importance of building credibility, knowledge, and influence in areas like data ethics, cyber risk management, and trust frameworks. The ability to create new collaboration networks between and within government organizations and with citizens is another task.
“None of these [tasks] can be done alone, and the degree to which the public service CIOs work credibly with main boards and with politicians, as well as with partner organisations, will be an increasingly defining factor in the success of those organisations from 2022”, the briefing noted.
‘Moving on’ from Covid
The unprecedented cultural change and digital acceleration introduced to public sector organisations after the emergence of Covid is irreversible, the report noted. The report noted that new cyber risks have been created by the current circumstances, and that it is necessary to balance business continuity with risk planning and digital transformation investments.
IT departments have been subject to additional pressures to manage legacy risks and constraints, while also having to adopt new technologies. Some staff were also left behind when it came to the skills required to be “digital employees”. With the shift to remote work, digital inclusion is now something that “should” be integrated into all council activities.
The report argued that, in the coming months, it will be important to “move on from Covid”, adding: “[This can be done] by addressing post-pandemic digital legacies, focusing more on the opportunities for better public service outcomes that build on the positive digital acceleration in 2021, while ensuring that nobody is left behind.”
Cyber security will be a key priority for public sector IT leaders. According to the report, heads of technology departments should be prepared. It stated that cyber security risks have increased due to the dependence on digital services and is now a target.
According to Socitm briefings, organisations that lack clarity and accountability for cyber resilience are at greater risk.
“In 2022, all public bodies should review their cyber practices. The report stated that this goes beyond IT security and access. It also links to civic resilience and business continuity in light of rapid digital adoption.”
Data will continue to be “fuel that drives the engine” when it comes to digital strategies, the report noted, adding that councils that do not have a data strategy, with chief officer oversight, need to consider this as a priority for 2022.
In this context, the report raised some aspects to be considered, such as that the role of the chief data officer or equivalent roles in public sector organisations will be to ensure this is a well-managed resource – and just as important of a resource as people, buildings or money.
Alison Hughes, Liverpool City Council
Risks relating to areas such as data ethics, inclusivity, privacy and data sharing, and collaboration should receive more focus, the report noted, adding that this is particularly relevant as data volumes grow in highly distributed cloud environments.
Inter-organisational agreements on data sharing in areas such as health and integrated care systems will gain momentum in 2022. Public scrutiny in areas like health and care will motivate staff to prioritize accuracy and maintenance of data on patients and clients.
As the public becomes more aware about how their data is used, the report warns that it can be challenging to place data in their hands. The report stated that citizens aren’t ready to make the digital shift because systems are still heavily centralised and curated primarily by professionals. Additionally, there are many scenarios in which data sharing with citizens is required extra care.
” The development of a council’s data strategy and associated action plan has never been more important for us,” Alison Hughes, assistant director ICT, digital, and customer, Liverpool City Council, stated. “We must really consider what data we have, how we harness it and how we use it safely, and develop an ethical framework to enable our staff to provide better services .”
Digital identity is one of the emerging trends highlighted in the Socitm briefing. According to the report, local government and parts of the centre have been waiting for a national solution following the failure of national programmes such as Gov.uk Verify. This has resulted in organisations creating their own digital authentication solutions. However, this can lead to a “patchwork of digital solutions that are typically locked into service silos and not shareable, and are incompatible.”
The report acknowledged the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS), efforts to create a trust framework for digital identities for the public and private sector. The report mentioned the NHS App and other developments as “showing that the art of possible” in digital ID. It also noted that the public seems ready to accept IDs, even though they are cautious.
The success of digital IDs will depend on national frameworks that recognise the complexity of public services delivery and management rather than focusing on, for example, the opportunities for the financial services sector, the report said. According to the briefing, interoperable digital ID solutions will be developed for the public sector that can cater for different citizen needs.
“In 2022, we expect to see the emergence of a common, inclusive trust framework embracing the full spectrum of public sector services and users, providing a platform for interoperable digital identity solutions,” the report said.
When it comes to technologies such as internet of things (IoT), 5G, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI), the briefing looked into how these four areas interact.
In relation to IoT the report noted that technology will be more connected to faster processors and AI engines. This will allow for ever-increasing amounts of data to be linked to and analysed to provide greater insight and support for action.
The report stated that
“IoT is a very important technology for public service in many different applications. “In 2022, the greater connectivity and processing opportunities will require a coordinated approach to IoT deployment, maximise value and to co