.

Top 2020 public sector tech trends to watch 

From data ethics to the acceleration of cloud technologies, Steve Thorn, Executive Director at Civica explores the digital future for our public services

The previous decade was no doubt challenging for the public sector. Government leaders were forced to adapt to rapidly changing demographic, societal, economic and technological trends. This took place against a backdrop of reduced budgets, and a technical skills gap that even the deeper pockets of the private sector struggled with. We didn’t think we’d still be talking about the potential implications of Brexit in 2020, but the debate rumbles on. 

As the new decade gets underway, there are two questions facing organisations developing their digital strategies; will the UK strike a deal with the EU on the long-term EU-UK relationship? And will the UK’s transition period out of the EU be extended beyond December 2020? With negotiations still ongoing, we must look to what we know we can achieve now and one part of that is considering how cloud computing can accelerate the capabilities of technologies like mobile and analytics in a cost-effective manner.

Mass collaboration across the public sector around huge data sets will bring affordable scale to problem-solving, while presenting challenges around inclusion. Advanced algorithm design, increasing artificial intelligence (AI) adoption and faster computing will unlock the value of this data, supporting decision making by governments to improve citizen services.

Cloud computing is the foundation
Since the government launched its ‘Cloud First’ policy in 2013, requiring organisations to evaluate cloud solutions first before considering any other option, cloud has revolutionised how the public sector interacts with data and services in our daily lives. Instead of running applications from software downloaded onto physical systems and machines, the cloud has enabled organisations to provide these same applications to anyone with an internet connection.

Cloud computing in the public sector has previously been valued for the cost savings it provides. However, the cloud is also the foundation for implementing emerging technologies in the public sector and will be fundamental to driving innovative services for citizens. 

One key benefit is that its scalability allows organisations to experiment with the implementation of emerging technologies. Imagine the potential for digital twin technology in public services. A digital twin is a digital replica of a living or non-living physical entity. By bridging the physical and the virtual world, data is transmitted seamlessly allowing the virtual entity to exist simultaneously with the physical entity. The technology could be used to produce a nearly complete digital replica of a city — a virtual model of its roads, buildings and public spaces — combined with real-time information feeds from sensors and other data sources. In healthcare, as an example, a wearable could track a patient’s blood pressure and map it to their medication. That information, as well as data on the patient’s diet, lifestyle choices and genes together comprise a digital twin, an operational scenario that can be developed to provide a plan for medication and lifestyle.

Public sector organisations must move towards a circular innovation process, an environment that provides the tools and services for continuous innovation facilitated by the cloud. 

Ethical complexities rule in the age of big data
As data plays a more central role in our lives, the issue of data ethics has become a growing concern for individuals and governments alike. We are familiar with proof of ownership for houses and cars, receipts to prove we own products and legal frameworks that support physical property ownership. But what about our data? The issue of ownership and control over personal data will be a major concern for public and private organisations this decade. Public sector organisations will have to work harder to win trust and ensure data protection compliance.

The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP) and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) are involving patients in what happens with their personal data and enhancing the use information for direct care by developing a next-generation digital platform to empower patients to take control of their own health and wellbeing. Working with Civica as a partner, the platform leverages the wealth of disparate data in public services organisations, focusing on the quality and availability of citizen data to provide much improved, connected services for local people.

If data becomes more easily shareable across public sector departments it will unlock massively improved decision making alongside ethical quandaries and concerns. This large quantity of data has allowed many public sector organisations to use analytics and automation to enhance decision making. In 2020, the automation market must get back to scaling what is working and delivering client value, industrialising those areas that are delivering genuine outcomes. A recent Gartner report predicts that 40% of data science tasks will be fully automated by 2020 and in the public sector’s case, this automation will help organisations to efficiently plan ahead and use the appropriate analytics to make better service decisions that will benefit citizens. 

Diversity is essential to the success of this trend in 2020 and to making public sector systems and services as unbiased and as inclusive as possible. This means that the workforce in the public sector needs to become more diverse, to ensure that any insight-driven decision making meets the needs of all citizens. This will require investment to attract more skills and talent and increase diversity.

Citizen experience continues to take centre stage 
Private sector companies have touted customer experience for decades, and public sector organisations are following suit on citizen experience by devoting resources to making it better. The public sector has long sought to improve citizen satisfaction but raising additional resources or diverting existing resources to achieve this has been challenging. Improved digital technologies, coupled with new insights from growing data sets, allows the public sector to improve citizen experiences - increasing efficiency and enhancing service levels.

By using greater data insights, inclusive design of services will increase. Public sector organisations will have a better view of their citizens and can ensure that the needs of traditionally marginalised populations inform their design of new services. To ensure that services are universally designed to make them accessible to every citizen requires a more diverse workforce to develop the technology. 

While 2020 may be another year of uncertainty for the public sector, this won’t stop organisations from continuing their exciting work on technological innovation. While budgets and resources may remain behind the private sector, there’s no doubt that new processes, skills and tools are being developed to bridge the gap for the future.