The Challenges of Digital Transformation in the Public Sector


Getting the right advice is the key to unlocking digital transformation in the public sector.

It is no surprise to learn that the public sector continues to trail behind its private counterparts when it comes to embracing digital transformation. A recent survey by Daisy Group, of almost 2,000 organisations, found that fewer than half (47%) of public sector respondents had a digital transformation strategy.

Digital transformation strategies are where organisations accelerate activities to take full advantage of technologies such as the cloud, mobile, big data, security and even the Internet of Things (IoT) or artificial intelligence (AI).

The same study, in comparison, revealed that 82% of financial services firms had a plan to adopt new technologies. It means that public sector organisations are missing out on cost savings as well as productivity and efficiency gains. At this juncture, with budgets and staff levels reducing because of austerity, it would seem that the need for innovation in the public sector has never been higher.

A lack of expertise

There are lots of reasons as to why this gap between the public and private sectors has emerged. You can blame the public sector tendering process which focuses on driving down cost, the lack of clear direction from central government or the way funding is allocated. But, probably the most overlooked factor is the lack of access to tech expertise in many public sector organisations such as schools, GP surgeries and across local government.

In fairness, there is a mixed picture. From experience, local governments are further along than health and education organisations regarding implementing newer technology such as cloud-based computing. To be more precise, in organisations in the private or public sector where the chief technology officer (CTO) has a seat at the management table, the case for digital transformation is heard. It leads to more ambitious plans. For example, Manchester has deployed free WiFi to all of its city centre public spaces which really came into its own after the tragic attack earlier this year helping people desperate to find out what was going on.

The need for government support

A local government like Manchester has the advantage of having in-house expertise, but for many schools or GPs, that is a luxury they cannot afford. That is why, for example, many schools are still struggling with antiquated phone systems or teachers forced to work late because they can’t access a secure network from home. Time and budget-pressed schools feel renegotiating an existing telecoms contract is the answer, rather than looking at the whole system. The government could help them here by offering better guidance.

What if the Department for Education helped all schools to be infrastructure free by 2020, sending in technology experts to help? The savings would be enormous and the adoption of new ways of working and teaching would be advantageous.

The public sector has a funding challenge. However, too often technology is seen as a cost rather than a way to change business models. What is needed across the sector is organisations to reach out for help.