Tech in the Public Sector
Post-Covid, the public sector has never had to do more with less. BrightGen commissioned a report to understand the core needs of local government.
Tech in the Public Sector: Turning the Lights Back On
After a uniquely challenging year, the public sector has never had to do more with less.
BrightGen & Salesforce commissioned a report to understand the core needs and challenges of those working in the public sector space, as the recovery from Covid begins.
A long, dark winter
For the last 15 months, we’ve faced a challenge like no other; no-one has been left unaffected. From front line workers to the clinically vulnerable, from those already sociologically and economically disadvantaged to those charged with providing their support.
Inequality in society has never been more stark, and an already-stretched public sector now finds itself with an even greater responsibility. How can this crucial space, upon which we’ve never relied more, continue to provide for a society which finds itself more vulnerable than it has for a generation?
And it’s important to remember that when we talk about the “public sector” we’re not talking about a faceless, soulless entity. We’re talking about real people doing their bit for their communities, struggling through the lockdowns like the rest of us. They too have missed hugging their family, weekends away and playing with the grandkids. And on top of that they’ve been going about their crucial roles, with more limitations facing them than ever before.
So, as the UK starts on the post-Covid road to recovery, priorities across the public sector are now being re-evaluated.
After years of financial challenges and societal responsibility, the post-pandemic build back will see the public sector once again expected to serve those who rely on it, in the most efficient, sustainable and cost-effective way possible. Plus of course, with a wider range of clients to support and previously unforeseen issues to address.
What was the hardest change for your council after the pandemic?
- Enabling working from home
- Dealing with increased demand
- Coping with staff shortages
It's getting Brighter
Understanding that the public sector has never had to do more with less, BrightGen and Salesforce commissioned a report to understand the core needs and challenges of those working in the public sector space.
Here at BrightGen, we provide digital transformation services tailored to our customers’ needs, using Salesforce as an enabling technology. We want to help our customers support the evolving needs of their own customers, stakeholders or service users – and it’s never been more important to do that.
When you’re working with your clients, no matter which category they fall into, you want to be able to access everything you need straight away. No flicking between screens to try and skim all the data you need to have in front of you, while hunting around for the relevant folder or desktop icon.
Our customers partner with us to build one simple, single view of their customers across the business. So every interaction is then straightforward and relevant. We know you don’t have time for it to be anything other than productive.
The best part is, we help you to build the solution you need, and let you consolidate your data and processes.
As we’ve been slowly coming out of lockdown and the world has started to look brighter, we realised that those working in the public sector are going to have a lot of pieces to pick up. Service users with new, more and potentially bigger problems than they had last year. Service providers who can’t operate in the way they once did.
And of course, we know you need to keep those daily services we take for granted running, with an eye on how you can make them more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
We commissioned a report, focusing on Local Government in London, the Midlands and the North West, to see what IT challenges leaders in the public sector are facing right now, to see where their focus is, and to see how we can help.
Shining a Light on the Future
There’s no question that those we spoke to are facing some pretty big challenges. But there are positive priorities and goals they’re working towards, and it’s clear effective, intuitive and cost-effective tech platforms are key to helping them along that path.
Let’s look at the challenges. Our respondents definitely had some fundamental issues to deal with, with the main challenges being:
- Budget cuts
- Hardware resourcing for staff
- Streamlining internal technologies
- Slow decision-making processes
- Supporting residents & small businesses
Their priorities were crucial. Our research revealed the local governments we spoke to had some clear and crucial priorities they were driven to achieve. Tackling climate change & environmental health, digital inclusion, modernising waste services and improving resident engagement were just a few of the issues those we spoke to were passionate about dealing with.
Digital support to navigate these is key. We wanted to find out how important technology was to tackling their challenges and implementing their goals. They told us the service areas most in need of digital support included: housing, planning & building control, social care and environmental health. Areas that are fundamental to the well-being of our society need the best digital support possible.
We were saddened to find out that there were some key areas where the councils we spoke had been let down by their current tech offerings. They felt they had some “unmet needs” which were holding them back. These included: a lack of integration capabilities, reluctance to continuously develop the technologies councils use and the limited number of suppliers in the market
This was disappointing, especially as technology was found to have at least 18 different service area uses within the councils, and our respondents could name 38 main technology providers they were using. Yet despite this, key needs of the councils were still being overlooked.
We were, however, encouraged to read that, when it came to the public sector respondents in our research, there was an openness and enthusiasm for symbiotic, forward-thinking relationships with tech providers.
They told us that the value they received when engaging with external technology providers was increased efficiency & automation, decreased duplication, savings on resources and provision of a more secure and structured infrastructure. This is the stuff we like to hear. Digital support that actually supports you, and providers who know what you need.
"Without having these services and peers, we wouldn't be able to operate as a council."
IT Leader, UK Council
It was also encouraging to understand the criteria councils evaluate external suppliers on. Of course it’s obvious to expect price and their track record with other councils to be key to the decision-making process, however we were impressed to see that carbon neutral policies and social values were key drivers in maintaining a dynamic relationship between the council and tech supplier. They also told us, the biggest indicator of a successful external partnership in their eyes was the willingness to engage and respond to the council’s growing needs.
Understandably, having experience in or knowledge of how the public sector works is important to local authorities. In fact, most of the councils we spoke to had only worked with technology suppliers that already had experience in the public sector.
We were excited to find that the ground is fertile for the public sector to embrace more intuitive and improved tech solutions. Seventy percent of the authorities we spoke to already had cloud infrastructure. With budgets for prioritised services ranging from £150,000 to £2m/£3m (with a spending focus on housing) the post-Covid build back looks like the perfect time for the public sector to re-focus its attention on more ambitious and cost-effective CRM systems.
And Main Priorities for 2021
Although Covid has dominated the headlines over the last year, the pandemic hasn’t stopped other issues remaining crucial to those in front line public services.
The challenges facing the councils we spoke to ranged from relying on volunteers more due to a lack of staff, to remote workers putting a strain on the council’s VPN service.
However we found the councils’ most common challenges were split into six separate areas:
- Budget cuts
- Technology resourcing for staff
- Streamlining internal technologies
- Slow decision making processes
- Housing and rent management
- Supporting residents and small businesses
Unsurprisingly, considering the varied demographics across which our local councils operate, priorities differed as much as the challenges did. That said, there were seven shared areas of focus for 2021:
What's your council's main priority for 2021?
- Climate change & environmental health
- Digital inclusion
- Responding to Covid
- Tackling climate change & Environmental Health
- Digital inclusion
- Modernising waste services
- Responding to Covid appropriately
- Supporting local businesses
- Streamlining internal technologies and processes
- Resident engagement
Unmet Needs and Measuring Success
Considering the sensitive nature of much of the work carried out by local government and public sector services, it’s imperative that tech and CRM systems are secure, efficient, intuitive and reliable.
The councils we spoke to use tech for areas of their work where there’s no room for mistakes, such as:
- Housing systems
- Customer support
- Regulatory systems
- Document management
- Case record management
- Public records
- Planning & licensing
A large amount of IT is outsourced to technology suppliers, but there is a strong presence of in-house technology teams that work alongside these providers. The IT teams' makeup differed from council to council, and in some cases, local authorities shared resources with other councils.
Our respondents told us all service areas needed digital support in some form, but five service areas needed support more than all the others. They had already been key areas of need before the pandemic, and it can be argued that Covid has increased the importance of these service areas.
- Social care
- Environment health
- Planning & building control
The councils who took part in our research told us they had various “unmet needs”, where their technology partners were falling short, mainly:
- A lack of integration capabilities
- Reluctance to continuously develop the technologies councils use so they can charge for explicit bespoke solutions
- Limited number of suppliers in the market
What service(s) in your council needs the most urgent digital support?
- Social care
- Environmental health
The combination of these challenges means that councils often find themselves choosing the same suppliers again and again and using outdated systems that don’t connect well with newer technologies.
Unfortunately, measuring the long-term success of current technology was an area that the councils we spoke to weren’t confident about. Although the councils could highlight some indicators of success, they didn’t have clear thresholds or processes to actually measure if the technology was meeting those requirements.
We were told that “measuring long term success is a weakness of our council and local government in general” and “we are often required to develop things very quickly because of changes in legislation, this can make technology decisions shortsighted”.
To our respondents, long-term success would be measured by the following:
- Value for money
- Usage of the technology
- High level of satisfaction from residents
- Continued efficient service delivery
- Reducing challenges and complaints from residents
- How well it meets the requirements we originally set out
- Productive longevity of the service
- Great cyber security
External technology services were universally considered as invaluable by the councils we spoke to, for saving time and money, and using automation to increase efficiency.
"Without external technology services, we would not be able to operate as a council and deal with residents"
IT leader, UK council
A Bright Future
We asked our respondents what criteria is most important to the councils in selecting an external technology partner.
We loved their responses.
The leading criteria for selecting a tech partner were: price, carbon neutral policies, social values and their track record with other councils.
They also examined reputation, response times to major incidents, data/cyber security, diversity, and good communication.
And we completely agree.
If budget-conscious public sector workers are to be able to keep our society running smoothly, and support vulnerable people within that society, then it simply isn’t fair to ask you to do it with sub-standard tech solutions. To be constantly trying to get through to support lines manned by unhelpful teams who either don’t know what you need or don’t care.
What's the most important criteria for choosing a tech partner for you and your council?
- Social values
- Track record with other councils
You want to work with systems that are easy to learn, intuitive, that keep the data you need where you need it and easily accessible.
We also know you have enough that keeps you awake at night. The last thing you need to worry about is if your confidential, sensitive case files are digitally secure.
Most of all, while you’re going through procurement and searching for the best tech solution. You want to work with a supplier who knows your field, who knows what you need, who will listen to you when you suggest more bespoke options, and who you can get hold of if there’s an issue.
And if you can share a smile and a nice chat along the way, so much the better.
We’ve had a long, dark winter.
It’s getting brighter now, and time for a new beginning.
To find out more about how BrightGen can help your team, contact our public sector lead, Anna Bedford: