16 Jan 2024

Taking a leaf out of the private sector playbook: Lessons for the public sector (Guest blog from Kyndryl)

Author: Paul Liptrot, Partner, Kyndryl UK

The suggestion that principles from private sector IT can be applied to the public sector is often met with scepticism. In many ways, the two sectors speak different languages, and to assume that ideas can translate from one to the other would be unrealistic.

Enterprises, for example, are expected to react to ongoing market developments, led by economic shifts and changing customer need. On the other hand, the public sector typically works to longer, more certain timeframes that align to political and administrative cycles.

In a private enterprise, the set of stakeholders evolves over time, sometimes changing quite rapidly in response to a shift in the enterprise’s offering. By contrast, the public sector is mandated, by definition, to serve the needs of its citizens, the ‘customers’ for any given service representing a fixed value that other variables must work around. Accountability for the success or failure of a private sector IT initiative can be traced by an organisational charter, which defines how decision makers, such as the board of directors or company shareholders, lead the programme. Public sector IT, therefore, carries an ethical responsibility to uphold public trust and promote economic stability on the widest scale.

Unpacking the public sector difference

One of the most significant differences between the public and private sector lies in the cultural assumptions around what kinds of challenges, and therefore what kind of technology, each are using. There’s a well-versed narrative that the public sector is struggling to break away from legacy, mainframe-centric processes, while the private sector has jetted off into the cloud. But does this narrative still ring true? Insights from Kyndryl’s ‘2023 State of Mainframe Modernization Survey Report’ suggests otherwise.

The report, which surveyed 500 business leaders in major organisations globally, sought to uncover a true picture of how mission-critical IT environments are operating today, and the steps they’re taking towards transformation. The findings may be more familiar to public sector IT professionals than they would expect.

Less than 1% of total respondents, for example, reported that they are moving all of their workloads off the mainframe. The remainder opted for a range of strategies, with varying degrees of modernisation on the mainframe and integrating cloud services with the mainframe coexisting alongside efforts to eliminate mainframe operations from certain areas altogether.

This response tallies with the fact that 90% of organisations see the mainframe as essential to business operations, providing reliability and performance that outweighs the benefits of cloud alternatives. The most valued quality of mainframes was cybersecurity, with 68% of respondents citing it as their priority.

In addition to improving security, moving to a mainframe cloud allows enterprises to move away from legacy DCs and delve into deeper talent pools, without the cost and effort of modernising applications immediately. Used in this way, mainframe clouds can serve as an efficient and secure test environment, using cloud-native services to build new apps that can then be deployed to hyperscalers.

Interestingly, Kyndryl’s sample of business leaders didn’t identify strategies that maintain mainframe operations as a particular cost centre in comparison to the alternatives: on average, respondents expected to see a $23.3m saving from modernisation initiatives, versus a $25.6m saving from moving off the mainframe or a $26.6m saving from integration programmes.

The report shows that we’ve moved along from presenting cloud and mainframe as an “either, or” operation. Enterprise strategies are approaching real maturity and establishing a solidified sese of what good hybrid infrastructure looks like.

The enterprise IT trial

A large portion of technology work in the UK public sector centres around developing new cloud-based services for citizens while upholding the value of existing mainframe applications in a cost-efficient way. The public sector, like the private one, must leverage the data it has to hand to keep pace with an accelerating pace of technological, social and economic change.

Reflecting on the differences between the two areas of expertise, it becomes clear that the private sector is increasingly defining itself in terms of responsibility to the planet and society as well as revenue, while the public sector is under pressure to improve how it reacts to changing contexts.

There is, in many ways, an under-rated resource in the private sector in terms of how it can guide the public sector towards technological success. We might look to enterprises, with their greater appetite for innovation and tolerance for failure, as a trial for the kinds of shift that national IT infrastructure needs to undertake. With the right expertise to translate these lessons sensitively and responsibly, we might find that those languages are mutually intelligible after all.

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Chris Hazell

Chris Hazell

Programme Manager - Cloud, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Sue Daley

Sue Daley

Director, Technology and Innovation

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Head of Technology and Innovation, techUK