Economic pressures, societal changes and technological advances are combining to put huge pressure on local public service ICT managers to reconfigure what they offer to their organisations and to do so at lower cost.
The changes now in train, covered in IT Trends 2013/14 published by Socitm, the professional association for IT leaders in local public services, will cause even greater disruption than the transition from mainframe to PC, says the report.
Subtitled Delivering against the technology expectation the report says thatthe main driver for change is the consumerisation of ICT, with widespread take-up of smartphones and tablets increasing users’ familiarity with, and comfort in, using powerful technology.
Against this background, service managers need modernised services that will run at much lower cost. The ICT function will have a smaller estate to run, but one that calls on cloud services to meet cyclical peaks and troughs of demand. To do this effectively, ICT managers and their services will need to call on a broader range of skills than in the past.
As in previous years, Socitm’s IT Trends 2013/14 is compiled from a number of information sources, but principally a detailed questionnaire sent to heads of IT in local authorities and other local public services during 2013. The survey report is produced to help these organisations plan and manage their ICT services by sharing the information gathered across the sector.
The survey findings indicate that cost reduction and technology refresh are seen by ICT managers as the most pressing issues they face, with the wider modernisation agenda, and topics where ICT might play an enabling or supportive role, featuring much lower down the scale.
Organisations appear weak on the proactive aspects of ICT staff skill and career development, leaving this to employees. Consequently, they may be vulnerable to skills gaps as the economy recovers.
Web content management, geographic information systems (GIS) and data analytics top the list of emerging technologies to exploit. Almost 100% of respondents were planning to deploy web content management in the current year, underlining the use of digital channels to reduce the cost of transactions.
With regard to GIS, the report finds it ‘somewhat surprising’ that some 11% of respondents either have no plans, or are still planning, to use GIS technology. This is based on the fact that over 90% of public sector data has a geographic component, as well as the technology’s potential in service delivery planning, where overlays can be used to match demand with resources.
As with GIS, data analytics has a key role in matching declining resources as effectively as possible to increasing demand by helping to spot patterns and trends, and it is ‘no surprise’ to find this technology featuring near the top of the agenda.
The survey shows master data management at the bottom of the use of technologies league table, a surprising result given that duplicate datasets increase the cost of data maintenance, add to the cost of storage and can lead to different data values appearing in alternate sources. Reducing the number of copies of any data set also helps with keeping control of it. As a general point, the survey suggests there remains considerable scope for increasing the extent and maturity of information governance.
The report also looks at IT trends in local public services from a supplier perspective. Socitm Premium Partners were provided with the preliminary results from the survey, and the report features commentary from three of them, ATOS, BT and CSC.
Key messages are that austerity is hurting suppliers too, with shorter contracts, and clients trying to transfer more risk to them. Bid teams are now having to make significant cases for tendering at all. For their part, suppliers express disappointment that ICT managers are not taking a stronger leadership role in modernising services, and say that contracts do not allow sufficient scope and flexibility to enable innovation. In short, public sector ICT business has become less attractive to suppliers.
According to IT Trends author Chris Head, ICT functions and their managers are experiencing a new sort of pressure from their customers: ‘Service managers, who can now download apps in a few seconds that cost next to nothing from a cloud store, and are productive with them immediately, question why a new application to streamline their business will take months, and require employees to attend a training session before using it’. Despite this, the survey shows ICT managers to be more focused on making savings within their department than on opportunities for information technologies to make savings elsewhere in the business.’
The report concludes with actions required to prepare the ICT function, its senior managers and teams for the challenges posed by the trends it reveals.