How to Maximise the Value of Emerging Technologies

Piers Kelly

Budgetary pressures and the demand for effective services are common challenges faced by public sector organisations. These organisations must secure and maximise the value generated by investing in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and automation. This may be seen by benefits such as cutting costs or improving the delivery of critical services.

The public sector has to implement new technology on two fronts; for the public use to craft better experiences and outcomes when working with government agencies and for internal, back-office use. This helps to enhance employee capabilities and free up resources. 

So what approaches can be made to maximise the value of emerging technologies? What kind of attitudes can be developed? 

Approaches to Value Maximisation

The following are several distinct ways the public sector can utilise new technologies while maximising the value inherent in those technologies.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

RPA offers a new way of dealing with repetitive administrative tasks - the type of tasks that take up significant portions of time but reap little in terms of actual impact, innovation or growth. Core processes like HR and procurement require a myriad of small, simple functions to maintain - so why not automate?

RPA enhances employee productivity by working through rule-based processes and interactions, ultimately creating what’s essentially a fully automated virtual workforce, one that mimics the human processing of high-volume, repetitive responsibilities.

At the same time, an RPA offers the distinct advantages of creating opportunities for digital upskilling. Many RPA solutions come in build-and-deploy models, allowing public sector professionals to build iteratively while training employees to run and maintain the RPA, alongside understanding how to utilise the data it gathers properly.

Securing Shared Services

Shared services - the consolidation of operations used by multiple parts of the same organisation - is a popular methodology. This process of consolidation helps automate key tasks while improving the efficiency of any included processes. Essentially, shared services create the possibility for public sector organisations to better focus on delivering services for the public while adding increased value to their remit. 

A key consideration for those interested in shared services will be budget. Shared services enable organisations to benefit from economies of scale through consolidation and allow the addition of processes such as self-service to be implemented more easily inside a much more streamlined infrastructure. 

Public sector organisations can implement centralised digital platforms that cater for multiple functions while also offering a real-time view of data and operations. This helps teams gain more control over work and internal procedures, at the same time increasing the transparency, visibility and speed of the services being delivered.

Cloud Migration and ERP

Another approach for maximising the value of emerging technologies is to utilise Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), which aligns well with the shared services methodology, as ERP is about integrating multiple systems into one digital space. ERPs work in both large and small-scale settings, supporting end-to-end operational functions or singular processes, which can all be done through cloud-enabled portals. 

This move allows public sector organisations to benefit from the flexibility and security offered by cloud-enabled services. There are also opportunities to scale and add new functionality if needed. 

This means cloud-enabled ERP is crucial when trying to capture agility. Organisations aren’t tied to physical hardware and the costs associated with their maintenance. This has the potential of securing significant savings across the board. 

These approaches, alongside many others similar in nature, offer a clear example of how streamlining and connecting the internal processes of the public sector can secure distinct advantages for the organisation in question. When a fit-for-purpose solution is implemented correctly, maximum value can be secured, resulting in sustained digital transformation.

However, when utilising the data inherent with these solutions, there will naturally be questions regarding how to harness that data and concerns about data ethics. 

Data Harnessing and Ethical Use

There are various challenges when using data - how to gather it, how to store it, how to use it and how to protect it. These are vital considerations when ensuring maximum value can be drawn from a tech implementation. 

Today, the Government is firmly set on using data to deliver better services for the public. Better use of data can improve the design, efficiency and safety of public services. What can the public sector implement to make the most of data while using it safely and ethically? 

Here are several potential practices the public sector can utilise to maximise the value of data:

  • Data standards should be developed by a wide range of stakeholders across the whole of local government.
  • There should be a specific individual within every organisation, such as a Chief Data Officer or team dedicated to championing the best practices of data use.
  • There should be an emphasis on multi-agency data sharing to secure increased visibility across various regions and service types. 
  • UK-specific data legislation should be demystified for public sector professionals, especially those using or gathering that data.
  • Every public sector organisation must develop audit trails used to track how data is being used.

Ultimately, the general best practices should be ones that keep data use visible, protect data and comply with all relevant data legislation. 

The use of emerging technologies isn’t a new practice within the public sector. However, the focus now is adopting new technology with buy-in from key stakeholders and then using that technology to the best of its potential. 

Addressing the Challenges of Technology Use

In a 2019 policy paper titled, ‘Government Technology Innovation Strategy’, it states that a “Strong technical infrastructure and access to useful data are key to supporting the people and processes that will help us maximise the value of emerging technologies.”

What this means is that the public sector needs the type of data that helps create a more personalised service, emerging technologies that can adapt and change with the sector itself and high standards of ethical data use. 

Today, many public sector organisations are held back by legacy technology, which could be no longer fit for purpose. This might be for several reasons, such as software being old, outdated or slow, or it could be because, over time, an organisation accrues too much legacy technology, the volume of which begins to bog teams down. Legacy systems also invite the possibilities of:

  • Inaccessible knowledge: Manufacturers and suppliers of legacy systems know how to update and change systems for the better, but accessing this knowledge is difficult. 
  • A lack of capacity: Legacy systems take time and effort, leaving teams with little free time to get involved in new projects.
  • Outdated processes: If a legacy system is outdated, there’s a high chance that the processes it enables are also outdated.

However, onboarding new technology also comes with difficulties. What it makes up for in speed and agility, organisations have to pay in terms of learning, training and making sure it fits with the current infrastructure of the organisation. However, where there are challenges, there is also opportunity for innovation. 

For example, GDS discovered that many users were using voice assistants, such as Alexa and Google Home, to ask questions regarding government work. They realised that working on voice assistants was an opportunity to support the needs of the modern user, alongside the added benefit of increasing accessibility. 

The team at GDS used the structured data standard to add more context to government webpages, helping search engines to provide better results upon search. This resulted in voice assistants being able to access 13,000 pieces of government information. You can find out more about this innovation by clicking here.

To discover more about pioneering technology use within the public sector, explore the upcoming GovTech 2022 event.

Advancing New and Emerging Technologies in Government

DigiGov Expo invites data and technology pioneers to explore the challenges and successes of implementing new and emerging technologies in the public sector. Tech trailblazers and government officials will come together at the ExCeL, London, 8th-9th May 2024 to share knowledge and bridge the gap between policy and cutting-edge technology. Find out more here.

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