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Public sector digital trends 2023 collection | Article

Public sector digital trends: conclusions

This year’s digital trends analysis shows similarities in priorities and IT opportunities across different parts of the public sector and different countries, with a notable shift in focus from 2022.

In many ways 2023 feels like the start of a new era for digital public services, moving beyond the pandemic as the main driver, now more focussed on exploiting digital possibilities necessitated by a challenging global context.

The shift in priorities is being driven largely by external factors that are not directly IT related – social pressures created by the pandemic, global economic downturn, environmental and climate change issues, and skills shortages. These external factors are more extreme for the public sector than they have been for many years, demanding a new response from public sector digital leaders.

2023 will see a move away from the emergency measures required to respond to the pandemic, to digital transformation becoming a business discipline, not a project. Every public service organisation involved in this research is prioritising digital and the necessary IT investment, as well as the associated change management, embedding this approach and response as a matter of course and not as a separate and targeted intervention. Of increasing importance too will be the sponsorship and advocacy of senior leaders and politicians to promote the use and adoption of digital practice and solutions, technologies, and improved data insight as a priority in response to the continued public sector challenges.

Equipping senior leaders and politicians with the necessary awareness, acumen and digital literacy to champion and advocate digital practice and delivery will be fundamental to achieving successful outcomes sought by the public sector.

Increasing speed to digitise everything does carry a risk of fragmentation and cyber vulnerabilities. During our research, some CIOs have reported that it is still just too easy to bring in new applications that bypass IT management. Digital policies and controls are needed in procurement in particular to protect data standards and to mitigate cyber risks.

Different organisations, regions and countries all share a common ambition of using digital means to help local populations to thrive. The examples and case studies in this research show true innovation. Far from being a ‘digital backwater’, local councils, in particular, are taking the lead in exploring and harnessing digital possibilities for the benefit of their residents, communities and places.

2023 will also see a big step forward in health sector digital deployment that will have implications for related services such as social care, housing and education.

Innovations, such as introducing artificial intelligence, come with responsibilities. It is important to all public service organisations to focus on these in 2023, particularly to ensure that digital trust is earned, and the public are protected from inequality, unintended bias, or exclusion in digital development.

Every country can learn from others. For example, the way that councils in New Zealand are developing digital services is relevant to solving some of the problems being faced worldwide.

This is where the strength of wider collaboration through organisations, such as Major Cities of Europe (MCE), the Linked Organisations of Local Authorities IT associations (LOLA), and the shared international work of Socitm, are particularly relevant. Their contribution to this years’ report is especially welcome.

“Participants find the opportunity to collectively discuss their specific issues hugely beneficial; how communities can work together to learn from each other and share best practice, lessons learnt and the potential reuse of resources. We need to do more of this if we’re serious about stopping the re-invention of the wheel and improving the adoption of effective solutions in a scalable way. At Socitm, we’re keen to support this ambition.”

Nadira Hussain, Socitm CEO, speaking about Socitm’s partnerships with MCE and LOLA following the Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM) Annual Conference 2022 in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand