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Has the long term technology strategy for your public sector organisation been derailed or accelerated by Covid-19? 

In conversations I’ve been having with my customers in the public sector, it’s gone either way. Some projects have stalled, for example, where care homes were looking to upgrade systems and roll out new technology, the focus has quite rightly shifted entirely to simply keeping their residents and staff fit, healthy and out of danger. Universities and other education establishments who need to attract next year’s intake are facing a potential reduction in overseas students, a wave of students who have been left uncertain about results, as well as having to deal with their existing year groups who need to be taught remotely for the foreseeable future. The clearing system will be under immense strain this year. How will universities deal with the pressures the system will face, and do they have the right technology to react to it? 

Even though many projects will initially have been put on ice to firefight what Covid-19 unleashed, projects cannot be shelved forever. To stand still is to fall behind… but try telling that to the retailer that has been closed for the last 8 weeks, or the airport worker who faces the very real threat of no job to return to. The public sector has also seen its fair share of disruption. Clearly healthcare has been at the forefront of this but other public services have also been affected, especially education which has suffered from a 90% reduction in output. How to adapt and develop a long term strategy to deal with the restrictions we’re being told will be in place for the foreseeable future is a big issue. 

What is the answer?  

Is it diversification, technology, or a combination of both? Diversifying has enabled a number of private sector businesses to change their offering to survive, adapting to the constraints placed upon society by changing how their businesses work. Whether that’s the local pub now providing takeaway meals and deliveries or traditional retailers moving high street operations to online stores, having a plan, being agile and able to adapt will be the only way forward to function in whatever the “new normal” world looks like. The same applies to the public sector.  

Lockdown and social distancing will eventually be lifted. Quite when that will happen is uncertain, but it won’t be like this forever.  

When we do return to something that resembles normality, we will no doubt see a very different world on the other side. Certain sectors like the aviation industry and food & accommodation sectors have been hit particularly hard and face a long road to recovery. 

All eyes are on the government as it rallies to support many industries, and the public sector is part of these plans. From measures to help universities stabilise the admissions process in the autumn, to Matt Hancock’s announcement that £13.4 billion of NHS debt is to be written off, supporting public services remains a top priority.  

The public sector is worth its weight in gold 

While some sectors will be left reeling post-Covid19, and may never fully recover, the public sector is here to stay. We will always need health, housing, education and government services so they won’t be going anywhere.  

Public sector workers havbeen at the forefront of the crisis and proven invaluable throughout. Let’s hope the government now focuses on continual investment to enable us to build upon our exceptional public services, which are the cornerstone of our society. 

The challenges the whole sector has faced as a result of responding to Covid-19 may offer reason enough to take a step back, take some time out from firefighting (once things are more stable) and consider what the future of the sector as a whole should look like. Accelerating digital transformation and embracing a cultural change in the workplace are very real considerations for public sector leaders. Remote working has in some cases been forced upon the entire workforce. So how should it best be carried forward into “the new normal” while managing security risks and keeping strategic goals on track? 

There’s a lot we could learn from around the world. The former Soviet state of Estonia is one such learning point... particularly because it’s now recognised as the most advanced digital society in the world - not bad for a country that didn’t officially exist until 1991. Since then, they have been at the forefront of digital innovation, using technology to connect public services and operating on an entirely paperless basis, the system enables them to effectively switch on and switch off should the need arise. It’s a role model for the government of the 21st century.  

For example as a direct response to the unfurling Covid-19 crisis, the Estonian Patient Portal launched a new feature in a matter of days, helping take some of the pressure off doctors and nurses by letting people temporarily start their own sick leave in the system.  

In the education sector, as students across Europe transitioned to distance learning, Estonia and other Scandinavian providers of digital education tools banded together to offer their solutions for free to the whole world. This was made possible due to an established digital infrastructure that enabled them to adapt quickly. An example to us all. 

Through initiatives such as the TechForce19 challenge which supports vulnerable people, technology has been embraced as one of the best ways to support people throughout the crisis. And technology can be what helps public sector organisations adapt to the “new normal” of the future so that they can continue to function. Never before has connectivity and digital infrastructure been more important. From delivering virtual lessons to children or GP appointments via video conferencing or from communicating with citizens via social media, going digital has helped support the public sector through the initial emergency stage of the virus and no doubt will continue to do so throughout the uncertain months ahead.  

Technology had already been proving its worth before the coronavirus hit. For example the London Fire Brigade was already using analytics and big data to identify high risk areas and target their resources more efficiently. This type of innovation must continue.  

Our message is: don’t panic and abandon the relevant strategies that were in place before the world changed in March 2020. Don’t get thrown off course. There are fundamentals that were identified as being important, most of which will still apply once the dust settles. For the public sector to be able to continue to make services affordable, resilient, and meet public demand, digital transformation is key. Just make sure you bring a specialist and experienced technology partner on the journey with you to maximise the results.  

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