Public Sector Tech Trends: 2022

17th December 2021

Liz O’Driscoll shares the 7 key trends that will inspire more innovative public services and shape our world in 2022 and beyond.

As we entered 2021, we eagerly waited for the moment when the pandemic threat would end, and we could return to ‘normal’ life. Instead, we have endured a further 12 months of varying restrictions, freedoms and threats. Yet, our spirit of innovation has soared.

Digital and mobile are now dominating many aspects of our lives; what were once just ‘cool apps’ are becoming central to how we engage. Restrictions on retail have accelerated the uptake in technologies like augmented reality to ‘try before we buy’ , while the rise of chatbots continued with them now becoming essential members of our team, and further improving frontline services.

Closer to home, our way of living and working has evolved into a blended pattern that looks set to continue. For many of us, this has presented an opportunity to rethink and change. 2022 and beyond is likely to see us refine our expectations and assumptions of this new way of life, and these are the trends we think will shape it.

1. Personalisation as a service

During the past 12 months, people got a lot more comfortable using technology and interacting with services online. In the consumer space, we are surrounded with algorithms that provide personalised recommendations about what we should watch, listen to or buy. We see that citizens are starting to expect this same level of personalisation from all services, including those delivered by the public sector. It’s a view shared by public sector leaders, as 88% said that personalised services could benefit their sector.

This growing trend for personalisation will offer opportunities to improve the citizen experience and even provide bespoke medicines and care services. This opens big questions for already stretched public services, particularly how to deliver this in a way that is safe, secure, and transparent.

For example, the debate around identity management will become critical in 2022. Systems must be able to recognise and verify who you are, while also keeping your information safe. With biometrics, like face or fingerprint recognition now part of daily use on mobile devices, we have an opportunity to extend these into public services.

2. AI + Human Collective Intelligence = ?

It’s a trend we highlighted last year and is one that has accelerated further. From the fuel delivery crisis, to recruitment issues in our care sector, we’ve all witnessed how major events impact our economy. The stark but harsh reality is that with the increasing demand for public services, it is becoming more and more evident that there simply are not enough people to meet the demand.

One possible solution is to embrace the collective intelligence of humans and machines. AI will continue to offer opportunities to enhance human ability to perform tasks, learn, adapt and make more informed decisions. Augmenting humans with machines will be vital to respond to our complex world. It can help us spot opportunities for earlier intervention to prevent a disaster, find variations in spend profiles to optimise costs, and most importantly, free up frontline workers to focus on human contact.

This is not about robots replacing our jobs, but about ‘augmentation’: using the processing power of intelligent algorithms to make services more resilient and put valuable insights into our hands.

3. Embracing the hybrid life

The blended home and office environment has now become part of our daily life, and we believe this is here to stay. There is no going back to the old ways, and this should help us embrace the digital world transformation to enable this new way of life.

Whilst this new living pattern has brought welcome opportunity for many, it presents a continued set of challenges for the delivery of public services across the “digital divide”. From virtual team meetings, to managing remote inspection services, and providing medical consultations via mobile devices, the need to find long term (rather than ad-hoc) solutions is essential.

The next iteration of virtual interactions is already arriving with tech companies like Meta and Microsoft investing heavily into the metaverse; 3D immersive and collaborative experiences accessed via mobile devices or VR headsets. This year will see demand for inclusive, hybrid physical/digital offerings that ensure high quality services for all, regardless of how they select to deliver or access them.

4. A smarter society

There are now more smart devices in the world (12.3 billion) than people. The rise in remote working and sustained interest in personal health monitoring devices due to COVID-19 have been driving this device explosion.

From ear-worn devices and smartwatches, to smart skin patches, we are now using wearables for everything from virtual work meetings, fitness tracking, and even remote administration of medication such as insulin. The near future will deliver increasingly discrete devices that are likely to be accepted by older adults as part of assisted living systems.

The spaces around us are also becoming increasingly more sensor-driven, generating data about everything from energy usage to air quality. Demand will increase for in-home, urban and personal wearable devices to communicate with each other and create complete “internet of us”, providing increased insight and control of our environments. It’s an area that can bring real opportunities, with 90% of public sector leaders confirming these devices can benefit their sector. We see the continued interest to connect more smarter devices and help us build a smarter society.

5. Trust as the new currency

We are a tech-savvy nation, increasingly comfortable sharing data about ourselves in return for a service, whether access to free wi-fi or booking a delivery. But we are now at a tipping point of trust. How is it that many of us are happier to share our data with Deliveroo than with our doctor or our council?

Recent months have shown that the general public is starting to understand the importance of data sharing. Ultimately trust comes down to clarity on the value proposition. Having robust standards in place will help ensure both transparency and confidence address the wider question of how our data is used, by whom and for what value.

As public services around the world face increased public scrutiny over their effectiveness and trustworthiness, we will see new technologies such as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrencies and blockchain being investigated for managing public funds and putting transactions into public view; making them as transparent as our fast-food deliveries. Trust is becoming a currency.

6. Supercharged digital democracy

When times are tough, people want to have a say on public policies. The pandemic has spotlighted important issues of homelessness and the care of our older generation. People are investing more time in their local communities due to remote working and consequently taking more interest in local decisions like urban planning.

The rising demand to include the citizen voice will be an important trend when designing and delivering future public services. The recent youth voice on climate has shown how much momentum can be gained by those who believe they can drive change.

Citizen engagement, increasingly digital, is an essential part of modern democracy. With formal consultation routes lacking the levels of engagement seen on social media, social channels will continue to be the dominant space for observation and capture of citizen sentiment. Decreasing voter turnout, particularly among younger voters, signals a need to embrace technologies that can engage citizens with insights about their communities and extract both accurate and meaningful sentiment from social space. An important challenge for public services will be to have all voices heard, not just the loudest.

7. Rising social consciousness

Social impact has become mainstream. From diversity and inclusion, to sustainability and global poverty, citizens are becoming more socially conscious, and the pressure will rise for organisations to provide evidence of how they are operating. Whilst there is not the same choice for citizens not to use public services – in the way they can exercise choice with retail brands – the demand for public services to demonstrate practical action on some of the biggest environmental and social issues will impact their desirability as an employer as well as influencing public support and engagement.

Data and AI will play a key role in supporting transparency, evidence-based decision making on social impact as well as helping track and share its progress. We will also see more innovation around social impact investing, development of local economic systems and carbon credit trading.

In 2022, our NorthStar lab and Perspectives* series will be exploring how data, AI and new devices can help public service organisations respond and thrive against these seven trends. We strongly believe now is the time to support the evolution of our society for the greater good with technology.

Public sector tech trends: 2022

Our 7 trends to inspire a collective approach for more innovative public services.

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