At the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic changed the lives of so many, we published an article explaining the Top 7 Emerging Trends for Public Sector Technology for 2020. At the time of writing, we could not comprehend the sheer speed of adoption of emerging technologies in the public sector.
Some of the most notable implementations include:
- NHSX’s development of an AI powered database to speed up the diagnosis of COVID-19
- The Government Digital Service responding to a 700% increase in usage of GOV.UK Notify, the government’s communication tool
- Local Government’s roll out of widespread care technology to support vulnerable members of society
- The Government’s DDaT Function built more than 150 new and augmented COVID-19-related services
Slightly more controversial was the use of algorithms to determine the grades of GCSE and A-Level students who did not sit exams due to coronavirus lockdowns. While data analytics and machine learning play a crucial role in today’s technology, the removal of conscious or unconscious bias is of utmost importance to ensure the fairness, equality and transparency in government decision-making.
The concern over algorithmic decision-making sparked an Independent Report by the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, including a list of recommendations to Government.
Upon reviewing last year’s article, we have set out our Top 5 Emerging Trends in Public Sector Technology for 2021.
Chatbots & Automation
In the face of increased questions from citizens, many departments within the UK public sector have utilised chatbots to great effect. The Driver and Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) deployed a chatbot which helped improve customer engagement, while the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) explored the use of a chatbot on their website.
The AI technology that chatbots harness, allows for staff members to save time answering common questions, to focus their efforts on more complicated queries.
The trend for 2021 is developing more emotive and increasingly complex chatbots which can automate tasks and processes. Chatbots can now employ natural language processing (NLP) technologies to simulate human conversations, with the ability to become smarter over time.
Implementing sophisticated algorithms to multiple integrated chatbots, offers the ability to transfer a user from bot to bot, seamlessly answering an increased variety of questions. Combining this AI technology with robotic process automation (RPA) means intelligent bots can now handle business processes and automate simple tasks.
Not only does this reduce inefficiencies and costs but most importantly saves human intervention for those problems that most need it, improving both the employee and customer experience.
More Data? Or Better Data?
Unlocking the power of data in the UK is one of the top priorities of this Government, illustrated by the National Data Strategy published in late 2020.
Improvements in technologies such as machine learning and deep learning, have been driven by increases in the availability and size of datasets. The extended use of machine learning technologies now provides new ways to exploit this data, therefore generating more detailed insight and analysis.
In cases where large datasets are not always accessible, the Future of Citizen Data Systems report outlines the use of synthetic data, generated by models in order to have the overall properties of a real dataset.
While this has the potential to reduce the need to collect data, it brings up new issues regarding the efficacy of synthetic data and the models which underpin it.
Although we see benefits of collecting and analysing large volumes of data, improving the quality, diversity and timeliness of data, particularly citizen-centric data, is key. For example, citizen data collected before the global COVID-19 pandemic may have limited value when used in predictive modelling, as behavioural trends have shifted.
Throughout this year and next, we are likely to see both an increase in the quantity of data that public sector organisations are collecting and a stronger emphasis on the quality of data so emerging technologies can provide more accurate insights.
The market for cloud computing continues to grow year on year, and is expected to reach an estimated £260bn in 2022. Although the uptake of cloud solutions in the public sector remains patchy, there is a strong desire to move to the cloud. UKCloud conducted a survey on over 300 public sector organisations, where 87.2% agreed that they would move their IT to the cloud if the perfect solution existed.
Cloud solutions provide flexibility, resilience, the ability for increased collaboration and will ultimately help government departments fulfil their digital transformation goals. With less reliance on on-premise hardware, cloud computing enables remote working, acts as a single source for maintenance and updates automatically, so it’s clear to see why cloud is fast becoming the norm.
The Welsh Government have successfully migrated their technology to the cloud and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have overcome barriers to cloud migration, taken steps to change the workplace culture, and further engage with its workforce. The ONS has a target of having 80% of its infrastructure in the cloud by 2023.
In 2021 and beyond, we will likely see an uptake in government departments advancing their cloud adoption and migration strategies, including the incorporation of multi-cloud. According to Statista, 24% percent of public sector organisations in the UK state that their policy regarding the use of cloud services is to use multiple public clouds where possible.
Internet of Things (IoT) at the Edge
Not only do we see increased uptake of cloud computing technologies in the public sector, but there is also a growing desire for the use of edge computing with IoT devices.
Cloud and edge computing can work in tandem and by 2025, Gartner predict that 75% of data will be processed at the edge. In a recent podcast, techUK discussed how they expect edge to be a major part of digital infrastructure that will deliver the full potential of transformative technologies such as digital twins, 5G, IoT and AI.
Edge computing is able to meet the growing demand for processing data in real-time. By bringing data storage closer to the location it is needed, users benefit from reduced latency and bandwidth from processing data to the cloud. The main benefits of edge computing for the public sector are lower system cost, reduced carbon footprint and greater security – as there is less chance of data exposure to hackers.
With a myriad of applications in healthcare, smart cities, vehicle automation and public transport – exploiting edge computing delivers enhanced decision-making for governments. For any application that requires real-time processing of data, edge is the way to go. Drones are already using edge computing in 3D site surveying and geospatial mapping and research is being carried out on an edge-computing based fall detection system for elderly people.
While Cyber Security is certainly not new, the increased vulnerability of data and digital systems due to the large-scale shift in remote working calls for a renewed focus on the resilience and security of our tech.
In addition to risks surrounding new remote-working norms, the Future of Citizen Data Systems Report notes that new types of citizen data and novel uses bring new threats to manage. Evolving risks around the vulnerabilities in machine-learning systems, algorithmic bias and micro-targeting of cyber-attacks will drive the adoption of robust cyber defences in the public sector.
The formation of the new UK Cyber Security Council highlights the government's continued focus in this area, with its main aims to increase the development of training and standards within the industry.
While the consideration of trends is valuable, the current pandemic has highlighted disruptors which shape the way we live, work and play. Whether political, social or economic shocks, these disruptors change how we interact with technology.
These trends are discussed in further detail by experts in their respective fields at our upcoming technology events. Join the live discussions with like-minded peers and view our list of events today.