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2021 Predictions: UK public sector

6 Jan 2021

Trends, technologies, key topics, and issues around the public sector that will shape up 2021

Matt Howell
         Matt Howell

Over the last 6 years, the UK Government has forged a reputation for being innovative in the way it has embraced digital and open source technologies. 2020 can only be described as “turbulent” globally, nationally and for UK Government. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of millions of UK citizens requiring the UK government to react and respond in unprecedented ways. With the UK vaccination programme underway and light at the end of the tunnel what lessons can be learned from 2020 and what will be important for UK Government in 2021.

As we emerge from the pandemic, the government will be faced with the realities of the economic impact. The imperative will be to do more with less, implement lean administration and rapidly implement new services.

To understand what lies ahead for the UK government, I met with our public sector experts, Matt Howell, Mick Halliday, and Nick James. This is what I learnt.

Accelerating Digital Transformation

An enforced shift to home working for the majority of government staff has served to both demonstrate the ‘art of the possible’ and to expose the challenges within some underlying legacy infrastructure and systems. This new regime, underpinned by cloud-based collaborative tooling and technologies, has radically shifted perceptions in terms of working patterns and practices and will usher in more permanent changes as we gradually emerge from the coronavirus situation. This will accelerate the refreshing and modernisation of the office estate, bring a renewed focus on collaboration technologies and, with it, brings new challenges with regards to cybersecurity and workplace management. It is expected that for large parts of the government, technology-enabled flexible working will become a norm with office locations becoming interaction hubs, utilised on an as-needed basis.

During the crisis the challenges have been significant, requiring digital or digitally-enabled services to be established at a pace never seen before in UK government. Both the government and its suppliers have risen to this challenge. HMRC’s ability to establish critical national services, in a robust scalable manner that enabled new support schemes to be introduced in line with emerging policy over a 6-week period is one of the many exemplars. Across our own government digital projects, we have seen that delivery velocity was not only maintained but, in many cases, it also increased by moving to a remote working model.

These successes will hopefully give the UK government the confidence to accelerate the pace of digital transformation, enabled by remote delivery models and cloud-based technologies such as IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.  This will serve to provide broader access to UK skills and expertise whilst improving delivery velocity.

Lean administration through automation

The imperative of creating a lean and efficient government which can efficiently embrace new responsibilities whilst improving citizen services will have renewed focus in 2021.  Robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and Low-Code solutions, underpinned by digital services and big data platforms, will be a major area of investment. This will improve both the efficiency of existing processes and allow new responsibilities to be discharged without incurring significant additional cost. Dynamic purchasing systems focusing on these areas are being created during 2021 to assist the government in the procurement of such services combined with significant investment in AI as outlined in the Government Technology Innovation Strategy.

A recent Capgemini research paper, Reshaping the future: unlocking Automation’s untapped value,  describes the power of these technologies, the evolving state of the market and how the effective combination of such technologies can yield savings in excess of 17% across most industry sectors  – key areas of adoption will most likely focus on the creation of “bot”-assisted onmi-channel experiences  to provide more seamless integration across digital and call-centre channels, and AI-assisted risk analysis and profiling of interactions – e.g. automating applications, licensing and renewals, whilst isolating exceptions for human intervention

Focus on AI and data

Throughout the coronavirus situation, the government has recognised the importance and the role of information and data in supporting critical decision making and providing targeted solutions. The use of data science to monitor the pandemic and support proactive decision making has become a regular feature of our national news. The application of such advanced techniques and AI models will become a default tool for the government to support policy development and decision-making across the broad spectrum of government responsibilities – health, social-wellbeing, economy, public security and international trade.

Additionally, the need to automate new and existing services and enable further digital transformation will require the enhanced capability for cross-government information exchange, information alignment and quality improvement.

We would expect that major government departments will refresh their information, data and AI strategies, focusing on insight-driven transformation, API information exchange and master data management to improve both internal decision making and processes and wider pan-department interaction.

Addressing legacy technology

A recent Cabinet Office initiative focusing on 6 major central government departments has highlighted the significant cost burden (>£6bn per annum), security and continuity risk and transformation challenges of the current government legacy systems estate. The ability of government to continue to deliver high-quality services in times of change depends upon its ability to dynamically respond to changing circumstances, legislation, policy and risk. The breadth, scale and nature of the technology that underpins public service delivery provides enormous opportunities but equally significant challenges. Addressing these challenges is necessary for more than just helping the government to innovate. It is about managing scale, operational efficiency and providing the best value for money while user expectations, technologies, and suppliers’ services are rapidly changing. Therefore, we predict that 2021 will see greater adoption of cloud computing, making services more scalable.  It will also result in reduced spending on data centres, with improved integration of new digital services that drive automation, efficiency and improved citizen interaction.