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Digital positives from the pandemic

05/05/21

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The experiences of last year changed the outlook for the public sector’s use of technology, writes Nutanix public sector director, Andrew Puddephatt

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2020 was a year that nobody is likely to remember fondly, with the Covid-19 pandemic causing widespread disruption and placing new pressures on public services. But the digital community emerged with great credit, with a vast range of achievements and a series of valuable lessons to inform future initiatives.

This provided the background for a virtual round table discussion staged by UKAuthority and Nutanix, involving a collection of digital leaders from the public sector to discuss experiences and how they are shaping the outlook for the future – with an emphasis on the positives.

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It covered the prospects for a long term continuation of home working, new attitudes to business continuity, an increased emphasis on digital forms of public engagement, and an overall acceleration in transformation initiatives.

Some of the positives have involved a valuable learning process. This includes a stronger understanding of the dynamics of home working, that people have their own reactions to being removed from the office and a permanent shift would be good for some but a negative for others.

Organisations are still exploring the issue and working towards a long term balance that can be right for them and their employees.

New types of meeting

Related to this is the surge in video conferencing and rising awareness of how this requires a different approach to managing meetings. Part of it is in managing the technology effectively, but there is also a need to recognise that people behave differently when faced with a screen and convey less in their body language, even tone of voice, than when meeting face-to-face.

This is forcing organisations to think about the proper procedures for managing meetings and the etiquette for participants.

A big positive has emerged in removing people from the constraints of office routine, enabling them to spend more time on dealing with people in their communities. Related to this is a breakdown in ‘presenteeism’, with people now less likely to be judged on how long they spend in the office and more likely on what they deliver.

There have also been good signs in how the lockdown has fuelled a change in public attitudes that has made many more open to virtual channels in dealing with public authorities. This has been accompanied by the need to move public meetings, including those for full councils and committees in local government, onto virtual channels, and there have been reports of a lot more people watching livestreams and recordings of meetings than used to turn up in chambers and meeting rooms.

Other benefits have emerged in providing the scope for reductions in office space, massive cuts in the volume of printing and the associated costs, increases in data analytics activity as authorities aim to understand the effects of the pandemic in their localities, progress in the deployment of online training, and the capacity to look further afield in finding skilled staff due to the removal of the daily commute.

Accelerating transformation

Underlying all the changes is the sense that the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of many authorities.

The rapid development of solutions to co-ordinate the voluntary response to the pandemic in its early days showed it is possible to design and launch them in days rather than months, and highlighted the central role of digital within the organisations. It combined with the highly visible efforts of digital teams to keep things running to strengthen the appreciation of their role, and of the fact that they are crucial to public services.

This has fuelled a change in attitudes, providing evidence that as organisations evolve to deal with new pressures, not all of which can be foreseen, they will have to rely heavily on technology solutions.

Cloud services are bound to play a big role in this. They have proved crucial during the pandemic in enabling public authorities to scale up their operations with increased capacity to store and process data; and they provide the variety and flexibility to support the quick development of services to meet new demands.

It does not entail a wholesale shift to cloud; but strategies that combine the use of public cloud with hosted private cloud and on-premise platforms are going to be increasingly important, providing foundations for robust continuity and an agile approach to the implementation and management of digital services.

The mood is optimistic, with a belief that the cause of transformation is now more firmly established. The public sector has an opportunity to build on the experiences of the past year to create a positive, digitally enabled future.

Image from iStock, George Rudy

Download the full briefing note via the form below

Download the UKAuthority & Nutanix briefing note: Digital positives from the pandemic

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