Hot on the heels of CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) – in which watches that monitor our blood pressure were announced, alongside vests that track our heart health – a large UK NHS trust has outlined its plans to scrap fax machines for communications. Similarly in February, NHS decided to decommission the usage of pagers and replace them with modern technology as part of accomplishing complete digitisation.
If we ever needed any perspective as to the challenge that our public services face, in relation to the effective deployment of technology, this is it.
We live in an era in which, as consumers, we expect to self-help – using virtual assistants, online forms or even voice-activated chat-bots – but as citizens we’ve had to accept a slower rate of innovation when it comes to accessing services.
Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, is no stranger to these challenges, and his 10 year plan for the NHS – announced earlier this year – includes specific measures to “make digital health services a mainstream part of the NHS, so that in five years, patients in England will be able to access a digital GP offer”. In order to tackle lengthy waiting lists and increasing costs, as well as enabling patients to self-help, many would agree this is a necessary step forward.
Yet, with such a fragmented IT infrastructure – spread over more than 200 NHS trusts across the UK, each with their own IT systems – achieving this goal will require more than shiny new apps and interfaces.
The NHS isn’t the only public sector entity that has struggled with the adoption of new technology. A recent study from Citrix found that four in five (80 percent) local authorities still access and manage citizen data on-premises. Further, around 70 percent of councils responded that they’re “not confident” that they hold a ‘single view’ of their citizen data, i.e. just the one, singular database entry per citizen.
With disparate offices, IT systems and people, joining up technology and processes has long been a sore spot for the public sector, especially for local government and the health service. While technology was inherently designed to speed the flow of information to anyone and everyone who needs it, more often than not it actually slows us down. This is typically because legacy technologies are built on complex, rigid software stacks that create silos and block access to essential data. IT teams do their best to patch these gaps with a plethora of technologies, but that only adds more complexity and costs to manage.
So how can they connect software, systems and people, uniting legacy IT with cutting-edge cloud technology to deliver first class citizen services?
Liberating IT from the past
The key is around connecting those systems and applications to harness the data being managed and unlock any potential insights and efficiencies that could be leveraged. Cloud-based integration technology provides an in-road for IT leaders seeking to achieve just that – unifying their digital infrastructure.
By harnessing the cloud to connect everything inside and outside of an organisation, IT can break the shackles of legacy technology – enabling tech to scale as demand grows. Technology platforms are available to unite systems, datasets, applications and people so they can work in synch to accelerate access to information everywhere it needs to go.
Speeding up an organisation’s ability to share information with everything and everyone, anytime and anywhere they need it, integration could play a key role in bonding disparate NHS trusts, local councils and other public sector entities to enable better working together.
A shared future
With the entire public sector feeling the pinch following a period of austerity, slow economic growth and on the eve of Brexit, leaders are focused on creating more innovative ways of providing citizen services. Many councils have seen the benefits of shared services in order to boost efficiency in recent years. In fact, according to the Local Government Association, shared services have contributed to taxpayers saving more than £971m cumulative savings from over 550 arrangements.
As an example of this, Islington, Camden and Haringey councils launched the ‘Shared Digital’ service, whereby they have brought together digital and ICT staff, to enhance the service for residents and cut costs. The collaboration is expected to deliver around £6m in savings across the three local authorities.
For other public sector organisations seeking to benefit from similar team-working, integrated IT systems, applications and data is a key enabler of this change. From health trusts sharing information with care providers or local authorities working with social services, dedicated technology can empower IT teams to connect departments and organisations, automating these processes to improve the citizen experience, while increasing back-end efficiencies.