Fast forward to November, and the situation we find ourselves in is just as fraught. In the intervening six months however, the adoption of technology across sectors accelerated at record pace, meaning businesses and public sector bodies are now more prepared than ever to adapt to a changing macro environment.
“According to a new McKinsey Global Survey of executives, companies have accelerated internal operations, the digitisation of their customer contact, and supply-chain interactions by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by a shocking seven years.”
We faced up to the reality that in order to stay competitive in a new business and economic environment, or in order to continue to deliver care and support to citizens, new strategies and work practices were required.
While office-based workers were ordered to work from home, organisations who were previously resistant to change were forced to introduce new measures to ensure workers could work collaboratively with each other. This was to continue meeting the service demands of customers or citizens; an approach that brought with it a host of digital advancements where previously barriers existed. Through collaborative platforms such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, and via a host of video conferencing software, we continue to be connected to our colleagues.
These barriers we speak of may be familiar to you. A resistance to change, a struggle to attain investment for infrastructure projects, a risk averse culture, or even a lack of digital vision. The COVID-19 pandemic should be viewed as a watershed moment for the way in which we work; pushing organisations and businesses towards ‘digital-first’ cultures. The benefits of this are tangible.
“Automation, web-based portals and live-service technology have replaced phone calls and in-person visits. Don’t think of the time you can save, think of the time saved for your customers or your citizens, whilst also improving accessibility, and reducing waste.”
So how can organisations capitalise on this accelerated business change?
Firstly, a warning. Doing nothing will risk being left behind in a few years’ time.
The first step to driving digital excellence is to have an effective strategy, and a culture that permits digital evolution. Developing a strategy is the easy part, gaining buy-in across your organisation is where the hard work starts. Only by attaining cross-organisational buy-in can you truly adopt a ‘digital-first’ culture and move forward digitally as an organisation. Many organisations have done this successfully and thrived as a result.
Take for example, NILGOSC (The Northern Ireland Local Government Officers Superannuation Committee). Here was an organisation that up until 2020 had a vision of where it wanted itself to reside in the digital landscape but struggled to overcome budgetary and governance constraints to enact real change. Looking at this organisation in Q4 2020, we see a public cloud based digital office enabling remote working practices and online collaboration. Transformational digital change. From which, all staff can clearly see the benefit. Yet this would have been unthinkable even one year ago.
Historically, the development of public services has had to consider digital and non-digital channels. However, the pandemic has forced the hand and organisations have had to prioritise digital. This coupled with an ever-increasing demand in digitised services that can be accessed remotely, means organisations need to look at what they can do next to level-up their digital infrastructure. For example, the use of the NHS app, which includes repeat prescriptions functionality grew by 111% in March alone.
“Once a user has interacted with the app, and successfully ordered a repeat prescription, should we expect users to revert to phoning a GP surgery, or even attending in person when these traditional channels become available again?”
This leads us to the technology that we should be looking to introduce to help further improve digital services. You may be familiar with terms like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Machine Learning. When we look at how they can be introduced within a public sector context we start to imagine organisations that reflect the services we experience in the private sector, in sectors such as banking, or retail.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is used to automate highly manual processes and draw data from legacy data sources. It’s hardly surprising then, that it’s heavily used in the banking sector, where we see formerly separate banks amalgamate and partner under the umbrella of single larger entities (e.g. NatWest banking group is made up of 13 different brands). These separate business arms need to be aware of their customer base throughout the group and share data across disparate data sources. RPA provides a cost effective and quick way to pull this data in and performs actions against it. If we apply this to the public sector, we can draw parallels with the amalgamation of local authorities into larger entities and the prolific management of disparate, local data sources across individual government departments and teams.
Machine Learning takes things a step further, driving efficiency in business by automating decisions based on the available data. Machine Learning algorithms help credit reference agencies to recognise the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ customers by analysing trends and patterns within the underlying data repositories provided by businesses and banks. This in turn allows other businesses to safely identify a solid and dependable customer base, or customers that may need help and support to continue using services.
“This ability to drive efficiency and identify vulnerable citizens proactively could be revolutionary for the support and social care of citizens through the provision of targeted public sector services and support.”
2020 will remain long in the memory. Not only as the year we endured a global pandemic, but from a business point of view it will be regarded as a defining moment for the workplace. Organisations previously resistant to change are now benefiting from increased efficiency, easier collaboration, and have opened a host of new communication channels with customers and citizens, all as a result of being forced into acting.
Perhaps most crucially of all, on top of operational benefits will be a changing of attitudes. Features such as RPA and Machine Learning will no longer be viewed as a nice to have, but for organisations to continue their journey in to an ever-evolving digital landscape, they will be essential in order to help us proactively improve our organisations and allow us to react to unforeseen circumstances in the future.
Equiniti ICS works in partnership with public sector organisations across the UK and Ireland helping them to deliver digital transformation objectives. To find out more about how we can help you, and your team, please get in touch by filling out the form below.