Digital Transformation in the Public Sector: The Magic Trio for Success

By Chris Bartlett, Business Unit Director – Public Sector, SoftwareONE

Consumer expectations of how services should be delivered today are high. Increasingly, we have come to see online, convenient access to public services – whether paying council tax, reporting a pothole, or applying for a school space – as the norm. In April 2016, the EU Commission launched a digital-first action plan for eGovernment for 2016-2020 – however, given the maze-like complexity of the public sector, tech initiatives are accompanied with a higher failure rate. An international 2018 report found that only 9% of government respondents identified their digital initiatives as being in the later stages, leaving 91% still in the early stages of starting initiatives.

Experience shows us there are some common pitfalls public sector CIOs face – from managing software licenses to managing spiralling or unanticipated cloud costs – that halt progress on many IT projects. So, what strategies can the public sector adopt to ensure successful digital transformation?

  1. Recognise the effect of licensing

 When we think about digital transformation, software licensing isn’t typically the first thought to jump to mind. However, licensing has a vital role to play, as most licensing terms for legacy software used by many public sector bodies were written at a time when almost all deployments were on-premises. As a result, moving to the cloud – a core requirement of almost all digital transformation projects – has a significant impact on licensing, as it isn’t a simple case of lift and shift. For instance, licensing terms for business-critical systems can prohibit the use of software in a third-party or cloud environment, or on a mobile device that leaves a fixed location.

As a result, and without even realising, public sector bodies may find themselves in breach of their licensing agreements. At worst, this can mean having to pay a substantial non-compliance fee, and at best it can mean repurchasing new licenses and racking up significant additional costs. Given the increasingly spread-out and mobile modern workforce, it’s important for CIOs to place licensing at the forefront of their digital transformation strategies. This begins with real-time visibility of their entire software estate across all locations and users before projects are initiated, in order to identify and map out which agreements need revising or renegotiating.

  1. Create a cloud-first roadmap

 Many public sector bodies are not yet making the desired progress on adoption, despite encouragement from central governments to go cloud-first. A Gartner survey revealed that less than 5% of private cloud environments in government actually have the full characteristics of cloud, leaving both government employees and citizens underserved. And while a recent InCiSE report found Estonia to be the gold standard for digital services, many other EU countries are lagging far behind in digital progress – including the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and Poland.

This highlights that many parts of the public sector are still only scratching the surface when it comes to cloud, and that most IT infrastructure and activity is still on-premises. This means that much of the public sector is missing out on the benefits that cloud – a fundamental pillar of digital transformation – has to offer. The solution is to leave behind hesitation over cloud and create a cloud-first roadmap that ensures manageable adoption of services, while ensuring that effective monitoring tools are in place to mitigate concerns over unexpected costs.

  1. Let innovation lead

 When it comes to digital transformation, European government and public bodies face many additional challenges that other industries do not suffer to the same degree. Digital transformation projects in the public sector are constrained by tight budgetary controls and a high degree of scrutiny, both political and regulatory. Adding to this, media reports on any perceived ‘failures’ of government projects only serve to amplify scrutiny and criticism further.

However, the fact is, CIOs and IT decision makers have little choice over whether to take on digital initiatives; the cost savings and efficiency gains available make digital transformation essential. So, to increase the chance of a project being successful, a shift in mindset is needed. While there is no argument that the public sector is a deeply complex environment, those within it must look to follow examples set by IT teams in the private sector. This means fostering a culture that puts innovation first and embraces the potential of new technologies and trends.

While technology continues to change the way we work, think and live, the public sector must find ways to respond to this by developing and delivering digital services to meet the needs of both employees and taxpayers.  In a 2018 survey, 86 percent of respondents said they viewed digital delivery of public services as equally or more important to them than traditional methods of public-service delivery. As such, the appetite for digitalisation among the general public also looks set to grow. As new technologies continue to be developed and digital transformation climbs up the collective agenda, there are exciting possibilities ahead for public sector bodies that can overcome these barriers.