By: Rob Walton, Industry Director – Public Sector, Six Degrees
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every industry in one way or another, but the public sector, particularly local government, has been arguably one of the most heavily impacted.
When it comes to the performance of the systems and technology it has in place, the public sector cannot afford even the smallest hiccup at the best of times. When you consider the significant part it plays in all of our lives, and the high-pressure, high-stakes environment in which we find ourselves today, the scrutiny placed on it by citizens begins to make a lot more sense.
To provide just one example of many, an incident in October of last year involving the loss of data on 16,000 coronavirus cases due to a Microsoft Excel error made widespread national headlines.
Whichever way you slice it, the way citizens expect to access and navigate crucial public services has changed in recent years. With detailed, personal data ranging from your vaccine records to your heart rate and bank balance never further than a couple of swipes away, people rightly expect instant access 24 hours a day.
Lockdown has brought with it a rise in Jobseeker’s allowance claims and the extension of the furlough scheme, while Brexit has ushered in the mammoth process that is the EU Settlement Scheme. In this context, it is fair to say that government means all things to all people in 2021.
Although we will see gradual progress made towards increasingly accessible services, the UK general public is still far from declaring full confidence in the industry – public trust in government globally had fallen by eight percentage points by January 2021, according to Deloitte. In a country where there are over 40 million users of social media platforms that face relentless privacy concerns, 68 percent of citizens don’t trust public authorities to oversee their data securely.
One way to address this issue is to re-evaluate our approach towards, and relationship with, technology. While the events of the last year have challenged all industries, they have pushed the public sector out of its comfort zone and into a land of opportunity. The technology is there; now is the perfect time to act.
Freedom through flexibility
As a response to the pandemic, public sector and government workforces have become more dispersed and distributed than ever. However, organisations have remained connected thanks to the systems they have put in place to support remote working practices. Some organisations have re-evaluated their setups and found legacy technology systems sorely lacking, turning to the G-Cloud and Network Services frameworks to procure cloud-based options which are better suited to help them meet their citizens’ needs.
This move away from outdated, legacy systems – from ‘workplace’ to ‘workspace’ – is key to building public trust. Having the right systems and processes in place can go a long way, and quickly. Even an integration as simple as introducing chat functions or offering more ‘self-serve’ systems is a huge step towards making citizens aware that the sector is moving with the times and responding to their shifting habits and lifestyles.
Other efforts over the last few years such as office rationalisation have meant that we were already on a path towards more flexible and scalable infrastructures – the pandemic has simply sped us up on our journey.
Promoting trust with built-in security
If making services more readily available is the key to building trust in public services, proper cybersecurity is the lock – one without the other is of little value. This is particularly true when you consider the sensitive citizen data the public sector handles, and the potentially catastrophic impact of anything going wrong. There was a reported 350 percent rise in phishing attacks when lockdown started a year ago, as well as a marked rise in ransomware attacks and data breaches. Cyber threat actors are using mass remote working as an opportunity to find new vulnerabilities and blind spots. Ensuring that the systems and tools in place have security and compliance built-in provides a crucial safety barrier and promotes public trust.
There’s never a dull moment when it comes to the public sector. From COVID-19 lockdowns to Brexit-related admin it’s a busy time for most, but this shouldn’t prevent organisations from thinking beyond surviving and starting to consider long-term success. Taking steps to improve the public’s experience will pay dividends and more in the long run – in fact, in a strange twist of fate for departments who have remote working strategies in place, now is a better time than ever to come together to drive positive change.About this Content