Published/updated: October 2017
By Richard Edwards
As one of the largest public sector ICT conferences in the UK, Socitm 2017 attracted a broad range of IT professionals, ranging from CIOs and Heads of IT, to solution architects and service delivery managers.
Sponsored by two-dozen tech vendors and their partners, the event managed to squeeze in a mix of case studies, panel discussions, and thought leadership sessions, all of which were designed to stimulate the kind of thought and debate that will hopefully propel the public sector forward.
Finding the time to prepare for the digital (r)evolution of local government
Ask an IT professional if they’re busy at work and you’ll get a quizzical, almost disdainful look. But being busy doesn’t usually help matters when you’re trying to think strategically about fundamental business issues, such as digital transformation.
Given a relevant and focused agenda, and a good mix of participants, conferences such as those organised by Socitm provide IT decision makers with valuable thinking and learning spaces,and an opportunity to share their challenges, experiences, and ideas with a like-minded group.
The public sector is a natural self-referencing sector, with many communities of interest and practice, but it has to be wary of the echo chamber effect, wherein shared perceptions are overly amplified and reinforced. Thoughtfully, some of the breakout sessions at this event drew insight from joint public/private sector case studies.
Public cloud as a catalyst for the digital transformation of public services
Many of the factors driving digital transformation in the public sector are equally familiar in the private sector, so ICT strategies are likely to be more alike than unlike. This is evident when we look at the appeal of cloud services.
There’s no doubting the transformative possibilities afforded by cloud services, but there’s no magic key that unlocks their potential. Our research at Freeform Dynamics suggests that public and private sector organisations have similar attitudes to cloud, and their experiences with cloud services and providers don’t appear to be that different either.
However, the IT industry can’t ignore those aspects that do differ, hence why the UK public sector has its own Digital Marketplace to find people and technology for digital projects, with ready made agreements between government and suppliers that can save on the time and cost of procurement.
Talk to suppliers before you start the buying process
With more than 20,000 cloud services (hosting, software, and support) on the Digital Marketplace, there’s certainly no lack of choice to help public sector organisations adopt the government’s ‘Cloud First’ policy.
But before starting the procurement process, we suggest that organisations talk to suppliers and take a look at independent assessments. This kind of pre-tender market engagement will help you understand your requirements better as well as producing a clearer set of written requirements for the supplier.
There’s a general impression that cloud is cheaper than using your own IT infrastructure, but our research suggests that the economics are seldom that clear-cut. By talking to suppliers and reference customers, IT decision makers can gain a better understanding of costs and timescales – the primary indicators that budget holders are sensitive to.
The public sector as a hotbed for innovation
It sounds like an oxymoron, but the public sector really does provide ample opportunity for innovation. They say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and no one can deny the essential needs of the public sector as it battles to maintain and improve public services against increasing budgetary constraints.
A presentation entitled ‘Using data to create a better tomorrow’ by Barking & Dagenham Council served to highlight the innovation opportunities afforded by cloud, mobile, social, and data analytics. People in crisis are often associated with high economic and social cost, so the authority is using data analytics to inform policies and predict needs.
Switching from people to things, very distinct and different case studies from Manchester City Council and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council offered a glimpse of what it means to be a sensing, analytical, and data driven authority: better healthcare, transport, and education; safer streets; and more engaged and empowered citizens.
Making the public sector work
Around 17% of the UK workforce is employed within the public sector, which equates to 5.440 million employees as of June 2017. But as with other sectors of the economy, this workforce cannot expect to escape the effects of technological change and digital transformation. Progress, of whatever kind, always leaves some behind, so the goal should be to harness change – especially technological change – to maintain or increase market relevancy, whether that’s as an individual or an organisation, and within the public or private sector.
Public sector ICT leaders, and the organisations that support and nurture them, have a major role to play as the UK public sector transforms to meet an unpredictable and, some might say, disobedient future. Focused events, such as the Socitm conference, are an important part of the thinking, listening, and learning process, so be sure to make good use of them.
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