People and processesChange ManagementThree strategies for success in public sector digital transformation

Three strategies for success in public sector digital transformation

Chris Bartlett, Business Unit Director – Public Sector, COMPAREX UK focuses on three points that can make for winning digital transformation.

Citizens’ demands of how services are delivered today are high. Increasingly, we have come to expect online, convenient access to public services – whether paying council tax, reporting a pothole, or applying for a school space.

The UK government adopted a ‘digital first’ strategy in 2014 – however, given the labyrinthine complexity of the UK’s public sector, tech initiatives often carry a higher risk of failure. A 2017 government report showed 60% of digital projects on ‘amber’ (in danger of not meeting targets). Experience shows us there are some common pitfalls public sector CIOs face – from managing software licenses to spiralling or unexpected cloud costs – that put the brakes on many IT projects. So what strategies can the public sector adopt to ensure successful digital transformation?

  1. Understand the impact of licensing

When we think about digital transformation, software licensing isn’t typically the thought that jumps to mind. However, licensing has a key role to play, as most licensing terms for legacy software used by many public sector bodies were written in an era when almost all deployments were on-premises. As a result, moving to the cloud – a core tenet of almost all digital transformation projects – has a significant impact on licensing as it isn’t simply a case of lift and shift. For instance, licensing terms for business-critical systems can prohibit the use of software in a third-party or cloud environment, or on a mobile device that leaves a fixed location.

As a result, public sector bodies may find themselves unknowingly in breach of their licensing agreements. At worst, this can mean having to pay hefty non-compliance fees, and at best it can mean repurchasing new licenses at significant additional cost. Given the increasingly dispersed and mobile workforce of today, it’s important CIOs adopt a strategy that places licensing at the forefront of digital transformation. This begins with deep, real-time visibility of their entire software estate across all locations and all users before projects are initiated, to identify and map out which agreements need revising or renegotiating.

  1. Adopt more cloud

Despite encouragement from central government to go cloud-first, many public sector bodies are not yet making the desired progress on adoption. Local government is a case in point; recent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made to all London Borough, Metropolitan, and County Councils in England, found that while 80 percent are using public cloud, the majority (68 percent) are still running less than a quarter of their IT infrastructure in the public cloud. The blockers to greater cloud adoption were identified as difficulties with application migration (60 percent), security concerns (55 percent), and compliance (48 percent).

What these figures highlight is that many sections of the public sector are still only dipping their toes in the water when it comes cloud, and that most IT infrastructure and activity is still on-premises. This means many areas of the public sector are missing out on the benefits that cloud – a fundamental building block of digital transformation – can offer. The solution is to leave behind reticence over cloud and create a cloud-first roadmap that ensures manageable adoption of services, while ensuring that effective monitoring tools are in place to mitigate concerns over unexpected costs.

  1. Put innovation first

Government and public bodies in the UK face many additional challenges when it comes to digital transformation which other industries do not suffer to the same degree. Digital transformation projects in the public sector take place under extremely tight budgetary constraints, and with a high degree of political and regulatory scrutiny. Not to mention the fact that perceived ‘failures’ of government projects are amplified considerably through media reports.

However, the fact is, CIOs and IT decision makers have little choice over whether to take on digital initiatives; the cost savings and efficiency gains on offer make digital transformation essential. So, to increase the chance of a project being successful, a change in mindset is required. While there is little doubt that the public sector presents a deeply complex environment – here is where the public sector must take its lead from IT teams in the private sector. This means fostering a culture that puts innovation first and embraces the possibilities of new technologies and trends.

There is no doubt technology is changing the way we work, think and live, and the public sector must respond to this trend by developing and delivering digital services to meet the needs of both employees and taxpayers. With more than two-thirds (67 percent) of UK citizens stating they are ‘highly comfortable’ using the ‘digital option’ first to interact with an organisation, the appetite for digitalisation among the general public also looks set to grow. As digital transformation continues to rise up the agenda and new technologies are developed all the time, there are exciting possibilities ahead for public sector bodies that can overcome these barriers.

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