Striking a Balance: Why Digital Must Both Connect and Protect the Public

Andy Riley, Sales Director for Public Sector, says it takes more than technology to truly transform.

During the 2008 US presidential election, Barack Obama’s campaign technology chief, Michael Slaby stated that “digital transformation is not complicated, but it is hard.”

Surely not?

2010 to 2015 saw the UK government promote digital development and the need to make public sector services “digital by default” and since then, we have seen an unprecedented leap forward in public services.

Tools such as the GovTech initiative have already made services radically smarter, more effective and, most importantly, cheaper, while nationwide incentives such as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme levels the playing field for businesses by ensuring SMBs benefit from the same ultrafast connectivity as their larger counterparts.

Back in March this year, the first anniversary of the UK’s Digital Strategy saw £25m awarded to six 5G-related projects which will be tested across multiple applications – such as smart farming with drones – to further deliver on commitments to create a Britain fit for the future.

At their most advanced, the tools the government are already wielding include things such as predictive analytics to forecast where crimes may be committed, which areas are more prone to flooding and where extra hospital beds will be needed.

Now this is all fantastic, but of course, not without risk.

Clearly, digital offers great opportunities to generate a wealth of new data but it is critical that we also put the relevant safeguards in place to both protect against cyberattacks and ensure the privacy of our citizens. When you factor in difficulties like securing data privacy and protecting public interest amid the implications that come with new automated services, digital can suddenly become a rather complex gift.

The problem with the phrase “digital transformation” is that it is perceived to be just a technology thing; if too many organisations focus solely on the technologies required, while not necessarily considering how those using them might be affected or how they might be funded or maintained, then their influence may start to wane.

2016’s Prioritising Storage Management in the Public Sector report found that 75% believed data and storage management should a top priority for the following 12 months, yet more than a third also stated that the perceived costs and the scalability of solutions would have an impact on the service they were able to provide.

In order to successfully transform, both local and central government may have to change the way they budget. What’s needed is for organisations to make a mass movement from traditional CAPEX budgeting in favour of OPEX systems which will enable more scalable expenditure for the solutions that the sector truly needs.

Solutions that manage disparate and outdated communications systems and ensure that data generated from disruptive technologies is stored in the most appropriate cloud environment.

Now that may well be hard. But it needn’t be complicated.

This article was originally published in Public Sector Focus Magazine, May/June 2018