An expert panel of speakers has highlighted the public sector’s “cultural shift and change of mindset” with regards to emerging technologies following the COVID-19 outbreak. The webinar – which was attended by more than 100 people – was organised as part of the build-up to the GovTech 2020 Virtual Summit later this month (October 21st).
Henry Rex, Head of Public Sector, Central Government at techUK, was in the chair for the event, accompanied by Dr Shruti Kohli, Lead Data Scientist at DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) Digital, and Peter Kirwan, Deputy Director, Technology Pillar at the Crown Commercial Service.
Within her opening remarks, Dr Kohli discussed the implementation of virtual technologies across the DWP, before adding how impressed she was by the “can-do attitude” displayed by her colleagues, and how well they have accepted the cultural changes that were enforced by the outbreak of COVID-19. “As an innovation team we are continuing to look for more tools and technologies to support the culture of remote working,” she added.
On that point, Peter said he felt that the “new norm” forced upon us by the pandemic was now just “the norm”. He added: “Everybody has accepted [this new way of working] and this is how we work now. People have been incredible in slotting into that mindset and I don’t want it to go back - as it is far more dynamic now.”
Dr Kohli agreed with Peter, adding that the widespread switch to remote working has allowed departments to become more agile, whilst people are now more accepting of their colleague’s surroundings and any minor technological issues they may experience, such as interruptions and drops in sound quality.
Peter explained that he has seen an “ethos in people wanting to work together” across both the customer base and the supplier base. “Suppliers have gone the extra mile… and I have seen many more collaborative partnerships, which will be great for business, the government and the UK,” he said.
Adding his reflections, Henry explained the “timeline for capability discovery has just been massively truncated and it's a testament to the agility [of those organisations]. He added that, in his opinion, the pandemic has led to the government moving more swiftly than in previous years, which has been “refreshing”.
Henry asked the panel whether there had been an emphasis on utilising emerging technologies in response to COVID-19 or was the main objective to ensure people were kitted out in order to work from home as effectively as possible?
Peter has witnessed a blend between the two – and that whilst there has been a real need to get people the right kit to move forward, there has also been a movement away from standard kit procurement into a more services-based approach.
At the same time, he said there’s been greater interest in new and emerging technology - not just from the customer base, but also the supplier base – and highlighted the importance of Spark, the government’s new technology innovation marketplace, as a way of encouraging that. “There are several interesting projects going through Spark and when they land, they are going to make headlines… and this has come through the desire to collaborate.”
“Therefore, I have seen a real blend. There is an emphasis on what is in my estate right now and how can I keep it working, but also on what is next and what can I do now to ensure I can benefit from what is to come,” Peter said.
He added that industry suppliers had been brilliant in sharing their roadmaps and what they are currently developing for the future. “I have seen a growth in SME organisations in innovation. There are companies around now that didn’t exist a year ago and they are coming up with great ideas – more people are collaborating and wanting to share these fantastic ideas.”
Henry asked the panel whether the landscape was likely to revert back to its traditional self once normality resumes. In response, Peter predicted that we will never completely revert back to pre-COVID ways of working… and we may find ourselves at a “cruising speed”, but that cruising speed is already more agile and the barriers we previously faced to get things done have now gone. He concluded by saying in a year’s time we will be able to reflect positively on the great strides we made during these difficult times.
Dr Kohli agreed with Peter’s sentiments stating that “everybody is ready to try something new” in terms of adopting and trialling new technologies – and that the experiences of prolonged remote working and virtual meetings/projects will provide the foundations for further innovation. “There has been a great cultural shift and change of mindset,” she added.
As the session drew to a close, the experts discussed whether customers have become even more risk aware since COVID-19 and have they needed reassurance that solutions can still be created during the crisis. Henry specified the appetite to innovation has actually increased – and more people are embracing risk in order to innovate. Dr Kohli was in agreement, stating that, in many cases, it has been a “necessity” to take this approach in order to ensure services can operate during the pandemic.