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Thoughts on Socitm’s Digital Trends 2024 report  

Report authors Martin Ferguson and Jos Creese reflect on this year’s research and predictions

A pantheon of possibilities to improve outcomes for people, communities and places 

None of us can fail to observe the fervour of major suppliers and consultancies as they laud the possibilities presented by AI. Like the temple of Ancient Rome – a connecting point between the gods and the Earth – they advocate an often bewildering set of possibilities for harnessing technologies and the data they generate to improve place-based outcomes for people, communities and businesses. In the public sector, what should we make of these claims in the coming year – inflated, disillusioned, enlightened or productive? 

Our trends analysis is a blockbuster in a year when public service design and transformation lies at a critical juncture. Challenged in the UK in particular, by a crescendo of demands and extreme financial pressures. 

Meanwhile, pundits may like to listen to our colleague, Dr. Alan Shark – Executive Director of the Public Technology Institute on his 12 predictions for 2024.

Alan focuses heavily on AI, and we think he’s right to do so. 

However, we think there is an issue regarding what the 5% of leaders will be doing, and the other 95% of followers. It remains our view that AI, as a technology trend, is of fundamental importance and will have a revolutionary impact on public service organisations and the services that they provide. However, as Alan notes, there will be a high priority to resolve compliance, regulatory and other risks associated with its adoption, and many organisations will be more cautious. 

We’re also conscious that many public service organisations are already playing catch up. You only have to try and book services online, especially in areas like health, to see some of the fundamental problems with some basic technology solutions, currently in place. [Jos: I am walking down to our local surgery today, having tried the NHS app, e-consult and the local surgery online booking system, all of which fail for a simple appointment.]

This is one of the reasons why we think that the focus needs to be on digital and technology separately. We believe AI is a technology, which will aid the acceleration of a number of the digital trends. But there is also going to be a dependence on other technologies catching up and basic digital foundations being in place to allow transformative service designs to really take hold. 

For those of you wanting to learn more about the implications of AI for the public sector, check out this new TV series. Created by a partnership of the National Academy of Public Administration and Gove Exec TV in the US, you can tune-in to all eight episodes on-demand.  

4 people sitting on leather chairs talk together in front of a TV camera

And, have you missed these Socitm resources? 

  1. Sample corporate policy for use of Generative Artificial Intelligence
  2. Using Generative Artificial Intelligence Large Language Models – Do’s and Don’ts
  3. Artificial intelligence: what senior leaders in local government should know

Finally, and as an aside in the light of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, you may like to revisit the Socitm report that I [Martin] co-authored with my solicitor from St Albans City and District Council back in 1997. It covers our experiences in the High Court legal case brought by St. Albans against ICL in 1994. 

Caveat Emptor – St Albans v ICL

The case was won by the council and the verdict upheld by the Court of Appeal in 1996. The case centred around a software error and a clause in the contract limiting liability to £100,000. The courts agreed that this was an unreasonable clause and awarded damages to reflect the financial loss incurred by the council. 

The report draws out lessons from the case for local government and the legal, IT and procurement professions that stand the test of time – the case is still widely used in legal training circles. 

Undoubtedly, there will be much to ponder in our podcasts, webinars and conference discussions in 2024! 

Jos Creese, Associate Director – Socitm
Martin Ferguson, Director of Policy & Research – Socitm

Photo by Dylan Freedom on Unsplash