Thursday, June 23 2022

Poem by TS Eliot land of waste, published exactly a century ago, begins with the words: “April is the cruellest month”. One hundred years later, given the exorbitant rise in energy costs for UK citizens and businesses in April 2022, it’s hard to disagree. Sadly, it looks like the worst is yet to come, and many believe the world will end in a groan – so how can the public sector cope?

On May 5, the Bank of England raised interest rates to a 13-year high and forecast inflation to climb above 10% in the coming months, warning that the soaring cost of life could plunge the economy into recession this year. But it is not just the citizens who are in a hurry; the public sector is already in the red – just as demand for public services is likely to reach unprecedented levels.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that total public sector debt stood at £2.344 billion at the end of March 2022. This equates to 96.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), a level not seen since the early 1960s.

In addition, public sector net borrowing was £151.8bn in the year to March 2022. This was the third highest borrowing figure since records began in 1947 , and it represents about 6.4% of GDP.

Against this bleak backdrop, how should money-strapped public sector organizations invest in technology solutions that best serve struggling citizens? Granted, expensive bets on the metaverse and vanity projects aren’t a good idea right now, but what’s the best way to allocate funds?

Jon Crowcroft is co-founder of iKVA, an artificial intelligence knowledge management company, chairman of the Alan Turing Institute and Marconi Professor of Communication Systems at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. He is well placed to answer these crucial questions.

Investing in Skills to Meet Huge Delivery Challenges

“My advice would be to match the budget to the current skill base, otherwise organizations will be faced with the challenge of undertaking a huge retraining exercise that will overwhelm their resources,” he says. “Government departments such as transportation, energy, and health are relatively technologically advanced and staffed with individuals who inherently use technology for scheduling systems, power grid maintenance, and data analysis. . IT is integrated into the professional roles of these departments, especially in the health sector. »

Other fields, such as the legal sector, have more limited skills, says Crowcroft. Their relative capacity should indicate where additional funds will be needed to support the deployment of technology solutions.

Alex Case is director of public sector industry at Pegasystems and a former senior civil servant at 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, who recently oversaw Brexit delivery between Whitehall. He has also led large-scale public sector reform initiatives in the UK and Canada – and is in no doubt of the scale of the task ahead.

“The government continues to face huge delivery challenges, from coronavirus, Brexit, the war in Ukraine or the cost of living crisis, including managing backlogs, upgrading, handing over on track in health service, social care transformation and management with high-rise building safety. They need government operations to run effectively and efficiently and at the lowest possible cost. »

Down-code can revolutionize the way government designs and builds IT. It can help a business get what it wants and needs from a new system, not the system the IT team thinks the business needs

Low-code software development uses drag-and-drop functionality instead of extensive coding language to build applications. The result is that it’s faster to complete and non-professional coders can use it. This makes it a great option for accelerating innovation and reducing costs, suggests Case. Its uses across departments could include streaming and improving outdated and cumbersome customer service processes, digitizing inefficient and complex back-office programs and processes, and modernizing debt collection while reducing fraud.

“Low-code can revolutionize the way government designs and builds IT. It can help a business get what it wants and needs from a new system, not the system the IT team thinks the business needs.

Additionally, he says, this approach can bridge the frequent gap between business users, subject matter experts, product owners, and technical design and development teams.

But where should the public sector focus its investments now? Crowcroft argues it’s less where and more how the money should be spent, celebrating the increased adoption of AI. “During the pandemic, the public sector has successfully used AI and automation to meet increased demand for services,” he says.

“AI can automate bureaucratic processes that are currently resource-intensive, thereby reducing human workload. This will provide cost savings, improve accuracy, and allow people to do other things that have a positive return for their organizations, such as analyzing data to identify where further improvements can be made.

An example of this is in the care sector, Crowcroft says. By automating some of the paperwork, the time a caregiver can spend with those in need increases. “Human-level processes are reflected in documentation, and that shouldn’t be the case anymore,” he adds.

One obvious way for the public sector to cut costs is to be smarter with outsourcing while improving internal skills. For example, the value of contracts awarded by the UK government and public bodies to consultants was £2.5 billion in 2020-21as organizations have used the private sector to deal with the pandemic.

“Consultants will always have a place in the public sector,” concludes Crowcroft. “But using technology to unlock data insights and training our employees to understand the insights – will improve confidence in their decision-making.”

Is low-code the answer to public sector concerns?

“The government knows that low-code can help ease the pressure and has invited proposals for innovative platforms and software for digital public services,” says Mark Smitham, public sector marketing manager at Mendix, a platform – low-code form. “Their shared vision is to deliver more user-centric and cost-effective local public services through open, collaborative and reusable work.”

He suggests that Knowsley Council is a great example of a local service provider that has used low-code to accommodate increased demand from local residents and businesses. “In just 24 hours, the council created an app that allows residents of Knowsley to ask for help or offer their services to support their local community,” Smitham continues. “This app has connected people who need help with those who can help, providing support to 7,000 vulnerable residents.”

Elsewhere, a low-code platform is being used to tackle the growing problem of financial debt with the transformation of the core business of StepChange, the UK’s largest debt management charity, says Alex Case, Director of Public Sector Industry at Pegasystems. “In addition, low-code solutions are being deployed to combat costly fraud and error for the Department for Work and Pensions. It is transforming the way the country registers land and property, and even supports how the Department of Defense recruits critical skills to predict and respond to a rapidly changing environment.



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