Though sometimes it’s hard to remember, Brexit isn’t the only thing that the UK public sector needs to think about in the next 12 months. There’s also the contribution of new technology to deliver benefits to citizens and service users – or not, as some tech promises remain in the vapourware category, for the foreseeable future at least, allied to the changing demands and needs of the digital population we are seeking to serve.
To help you decide which horses to back, we asked the UK tech sector to select their own runners and riders in the race for the top public sector tech trends in 2019.
Citizen data pushback?
The first of our top public sector tech trends for 2019 is citizen data pushback. Some commentators are convinced that 2019 will be the year the public – in the light of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals – start to ask louder and louder questions about what you intend to use with all their personal information. “This year will see a growing expectation from the public on the government using their data safely,” predicts Peter Ford, Public Sector Industry Principal at Pegasystems.
Another tough year on the security front
More than one IT professional we spoke to expect foreign threat actors will attempt to compromise the government’s IT networks, with a good chance of taking down a major system or two. “The attack vectors facing public sector organisations continue to shift as government systems increasingly become always-on, extending the window of access for would-be attackers,” warns the ‘Head Geek’ of IT management firm SolarWinds, Sascha Giese. “Making sure every employee is fully aware that they should not click on everything on the internet and continuously trained on the best ways to reduce risk and prevent vulnerabilities will be invaluable for helping to keep organisations secure, regardless of what the next threat might be.”
Others, like Skybox Security director Peter Batchelor, say that the NHS – itself the victim of massive disruption through the Wannacry crisis of 2017 – will invest heavily on enterprise license purchases to standardise web filtering gateways, firewalls and vulnerability management tools, resulting in what he foresees as “a pitch battle as the existing suppliers fight for their share of NHS revenue”.
Public sector CIOs should also plan to fend off yet another form of malware, adds Dave Rogers, Senior Account Manager and Security Specialist at Evaris: “As we move into 2019, the threat landscape for most consumers and enterprises still contains the usual suspects of ransomware, viruses, and worms and phishing attempts. Added to this list is a relatively new kid on the block cryptojacking, in which devices are infected with the intention of mining cryptocurrency. The art of the infector is to gain maximum currency creation without being detected but some slowing is inevitable; greed is a big driver here providing the attacker with a financial benefit with very little outlay, removing the biggest block to profit energy costs.”
Robot cars start to become a familiar sight
A number of people put growing visibility of autonomous vehicles and associated technology this year, with 2019 being a year we increasingly see driverless cars become more visible on British roads, thanks to activity like the DRIVEN project to explore autonomous driving between London and Oxford, travelling through varied urban and motorway road environments.
5G gets real
This year, new radio spectrum is coming to market that will form the backbone of 5G for many users – something that many expect will drive serious investment in developing services on top of this new bandwidth, especially around so-called ‘smart cities’, but which needs to be handled in a different way than previous surrendering of spectrum to the private sector, predicts Adam Leach, Director of Emerging Technology at the company that runs the .UK domain name registry, Nominet.
“I hope that we see a different approach to spectrum allocation than we’ve seen with previous generations of mobile connectivity,” he says. “With 3G and 4G, auctioning off chunks of the mobile spectrum on an exclusive basis proved inefficient, and with 4G, only 48% of the mobile spectrum is ever able to be utilised at one time. That should be avoided with 5G if we want it to deliver on its promise to be the foundation for a new generation of connected devices and autonomous cars, factories and farms.”
“5G promises to be up to 30 times faster than current network infrastructure and will allow for seemingly instantaneous, two-way data transfer. This will not only enable the growing number of flexible and remote public sector workers to stay fully connected, but also represents a major shift towards using data more effectively to manage assets, resources and services with greater efficiency. This potential will be welcomed by public sector organisations who are constantly under pressure to do more with less,” adds KCOM NNS Managing Director Iain Shearman.
Here come our robot carers
Many commentators expect much greater take-up of advanced technology in UK healthcare as AI continues to be so rapidly accepted by society, a trend accompanied by on-going changes in the way we want to use technology in our daily lives. Accenture’s recent consumer survey on digital health in England found that, in the last two years, consumers have already become more active in managing their own health via mobile phones/internet (from 37 to 48%), social media (20 to 28%) and wearable technology (22 to 31%), for example.
There’s also the fact that the government wants us to self-serve a lot more, as a way to save precious NHS budget, points out Dr Alex Yeats from managed services provider Advanced: “The NHS is under increasing pressure with reduced budgets and spiralling demand. A combination of AI and clinical decision support technology can help deliver a better patient outcome whilst driving efficiencies – meaning fewer trips to a GP or A&E, saving the NHS valuable time and freeing up resources while helping the person at home get the right treatment more quickly and conveniently.”
Plan for more online activism
Not-for-profit civic tech organisation mySociety think that we’ll see tech which allows citizens to connect with government become standard, with Myfanwy Nixon, its marketing and communications manager, telling us: “In 2019, ’civic tech’ – technology which allows citizens to connect with governments – increasingly become an expected standard rather than an phenomenon in its own right. We also expect 2019 to bring a rise in online political engagement, as people understand the need to hold their representatives to account; we’ve already seen a spike in social media users sharing their MPs’ voting records from theyworkforyou.com in times of political upheaval, such as the 2017 snap election of 2017 and Brexit.
“And as the reputation of the press suffers thanks to Trump’s ‘fake news’ attacks, and people feel less confident spotting which news is trustworthy, fact-checking services such as Full Fact will become better known and more widely used.”
Town hall websites to get super smart
Most wings of the UK IT industry expect much greater use of AI in applications beyond the NHS, though – with local government emerging as a strong candidate. Here’s one reason why from Simon Johnson, General Manager UK and Ireland at customer engagement specialist Freshworks: “AI will definitely make its way into public sector organisations this year, but not around Big Data but through projects that aim to tackle smaller themes like customer service.
“With budgets still stretched – despite the reported end to austerity – councils, NHS Trusts and other public sector bodies are looking at ways that they can make their existing service teams more effective. The good news is that for standard requests from the public, a lot of this information already exists, so AI-powered chatbots can make it easier to deliver that information back to customers automatically – a practical demonstration of how AI can improve engagement with the public and make services more efficient to deliver.”
“We’ve only explored 1% of the capabilities of AI,” adds Andy Barrow, CTO at cloud services supplier ANS Group. “There is much more to come in terms of public sector organisations understanding and truly harnessing insight in order to remain ahead of the curve when it comes to digitalisation.”
Sounds great – but we may have to wait a while longer for proper physical robots to do that much for us, warns Eddie Ginja, head of Public Sector at systems integrator KCOM. “It’s unlikely that robotics will become a cost-efficient technology for the public sector in 2019, as we’re still a long way off this technology being economical,” he states. “However, it’s likely we’ll see it adopted for ‘extreme conditions’, such as clearing up potentially toxic or nuclear waste in bins and rivers respectively.”
And last, but not least, remember IoT…?
After many years of chatter, UK IoT (Internet of Things) work could finally ‘get real’, as they say. For John Davies, Head of Technology Consulting at IT and business consultancy BJSS, for example, “The UK has yet to emerge as an IoT leader given the lack of a comprehensive nationwide low power wide area networks, but Vodafone’s NB-IoT network should emerge in 2019, offering a carrier grade backbone to IoT projects.”
Davies believes that Smart City projects should then finally convincingly emerge from local government, particularly if councils can harness IoT-enabled data with other emerging technologies.