The Adoption of Technology in the Public Sector

When it comes to technology adoption and innovation, it might be intuitive to think that the private sector is a clear leader compared to public organisations and governments. In reality, most private organisations lack long-time vision and adequate risk appetite, claims economist Mariana Mazzucato in her book ‘The Entrepreneurial State’. According to Mariana, despite popular belief, the most innovative countries have their governments leading from the front as opposed to the private sector. She also observes that the private sector starts investing in innovation and advanced technology only after an “entrepreneurial state” has made the initial high-risk investments and paved the way for success.

Technology adoption – slower in government sector?

In 2013, Forbes reported that governments all over the world are under significant economic pressure. Thus, they are compelled to undertake austerity measures, improve efficiency of processes and policies, and embrace new technologies. However, while the private sector often makes aggressive investments in technology and innovation, the public sector is catching up fast.

The reason for the delayed investment in innovative technology by governments is because they are the stewards of taxpayers’ money. Governments need to perform comprehensive risk assessments, maintain high levels of transparency and accountability to the public. They also need to be compliant with legislative mandates before adopting any technology or investing in innovation. Public sector organisations face similar complexities and roadblocks in context of technology investment and adoption.

Some key observations from the various studies are:

Traditionally, the public sector lags behind private businesses when adopting the latest technologies and investing in innovation.Government employees are fundamentally dissatisfied with their digital workplace technology.A survey of 400 senior officials published by Deloitte in 2015, observes that the public sector lacks the skills and funding to successfully deliver digital public services.In the UK, 89% of leaders across the government, NHS, police and higher education divisions acknowledged that their organisations pursued digital solutions to reduce costs.For 32% companies the budget for digital increased while 28% companies believed they had sufficient resources to implement digitalisation and digital solution.Only a quarter of the participating organisations had sufficient skills within the organisation and only a third believed that their companies are prepared to respond to digital trends[4].

Is there more resistance at a Local Government level?

Contrary to the belief that people working in Local Government are 'digital dinosaurs', Theo Blackwell, author of the Start of the Possible report, found that local councillors hold positive views about technology, automation and data, and how public services can benefit from them.

As mentioned before, digital leadership in government organisations has to be carefully considered due to the source of funds and the confidential nature of data. This kind of long-term thinking actually sets up Local Government for better planning when it comes to a digital foundation.

As Theo Blackwell says:

“Successful digital transformation requires redesign on every level — workforce, customer service, process, governance  and technology — to make public services faster at doing things, more adaptable, able to share more information and do so securely. For this to happen we need to support digital leadership right across our cities and counties in order to make public services more effective and make a difference to the people and communities they represent. This research shows that the vast majority of councillors are not 'digital dinosaurs', but hold positive views about the application of technology to public services and how councils should work together and share data."

Conclusion

In summary, we can say that technology adoption and investments in innovation might be slow-paced in the government sector but it is happening steadily. In spite of the numerous challenges and complexities that the government sectors around the world face, it is undeniable that technology adoption has indeed gained great momentum across the public sector. From choosing paperless applications, delivering public services digitally to successfully migrating entire offline systems online – governments all over the world are trying to do more every day. By embracing new technologies and investing in innovation, governments are aiming to become more responsive to citizen needs and implementing more sustainable and efficient modes of governance.

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