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Public sector digital trends 2024 collection | Article

Digital trends

Jump to trend:

1. Technology for public good
2. Reimagining services
3. Community resilience
4. Local and national leadership
5. Skills and capacity

1. Technology for public good

Technology and digital services can be a huge force for good but there are also pressures that can take them in the opposite direction. For example, technology often has a significant carbon footprint, adding to global warming and electronic waste problems, many of today’s biggest social challenges relate to IT abuse or dependency (such as social media and information misuse), and it has been implicated in the erosion of democratic rights.

These negative impacts have been brought into the public eye, in particular the risks and opportunities of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and growing cyber risks that threaten privacy and security.

For these reasons, 2024 and beyond is like to see an increasing focus on responsible and secure use of technologies and data for public good and community wellbeing, accompanied by mitigating negative impacts. As Socitm’s work on digital ethics demonstrates, organisations need to identify what is unique and different about an ethical, place-based approach to using emerging technologies and data. Whilst the same time explore how adopting a digitally ethical approach can help to design better services, leveraging benefits and better outcomes.

Making IT a force for good in 2024

Climate change, net zero, sustainability and carbon reduction

  • Tackle e-waste and ensure safe and responsible reuse, recycle or disposal, tracking carbon footprint and sustainability credentials of all IT suppliers and services
  • Demonstrate the use of technologies that help with energy saving and promote clean energy industries
  • Consider the impact of technology in areas of heavy processing, such as AI
  • Promote good practice by being transparent in publishing data and guidance
  • Consider the potential of ‘natural capital accounting’ to demonstrate the wider effects, positive and negative, of new IoT and digital practices

Jobs, skills and the impact of a digital economy

  • Promote digital and IT apprenticeships in an area, linking to centres of learning. This can help to build a local skills base in new technologies such as AI, cyber and infrastructure design
  • Work with suppliers who offer high social value in mitigating the impacts of digital change, and ensure that human rights are monitored in the supply chain
  • Create local partnerships with organisations who share the same values and create new jobs locally
  • Offer retraining and skills development for those impacted by digital developments
  • Consider how local economies can be shaped to benefit digital citizens and workers

Data and information – risks and benefits

  • Ensure broad and deep cyber practices that protect people, data, services and com munities, and ensure an understanding and tracking of current risks
  • Ensure transparency in data practices to build public trust in how data is used, shared and stored
  • Be clear on the risks and benefits of ‘data’, through clear policies, accreditations and auditable practices, particularly as AI is introduced
  • Tackle the risks of data bias, ethics, digital exclusion and inequality in how digital systems are designed, managed and promoted
  • Work with suppliers and partners who support and deliver high standards in data and information management
  • Always ensure digital change programmes focus on minority interests and risks, not just big efficiency or productivity gains for the majority

People
(staff, residents, partners, citizens, voters, clients, users) at the heart of digital design

  • Promote digital and IT innovation in areas with the biggest human benefit, and measure that benefit (health and well-being, equality and opportunity)
  • Use digital and technology to protect public services for the future by strengthening business change capabilities and digital leadership skills internally
  • Prioritise projects that help ‘people and society’, not just being driven by large suppliers, profits and narrow economic prosperity
  • Encourage everyone to play their part in developing digital and technology capability and mitigating the risks that come with this
  • Use digital solutions to empower people to be in more control of their interaction with public services, not constrained by outdated service models, processes and cultures

Public service organisations will be expected to take a lead on harnessing technology for public good, setting the policies and organisational standards, with which suppliers will need to comply.

‘Technology for public good’ trend summary for 2024

Overview of the opportunity

For public services the opportunity in 2024 is to demonstrate an understanding of the impact of digital change and technology, both positive and negative, internally, and more generally.

This will help to protect people and the communities where they live from the impact of technology changes, building trust and setting out examples of best practice for others to follow.

Risks and challenges

The biggest challenge comes from those who believe that harnessing digital change and technology is all too difficult or simply politically driven dogma. Being able to present a coherent story will help to mitigate this risk.

In practical terms, unchecked technology will create negative impacts, locally and globally, particularly in areas such as mishandling of data, unethical use of AI, carbon impact of IT, digital disruption, and the human cost of embracing digital ways of working.

Early benefits

Having a clear vision for the role of technology and digital services in delivering ‘public good’, and mitigating its downsides will demonstrate to partners, suppliers, staff, and service users that the organisation understands the impact of change and how to harness the benefits that technology can bring.

Where to start

  • Develop policies for responsible and secure use of technologies, artificial intelligence and data, digital design, supplier engagement and information handling.
  • Set clear criteria for the role of IT in combating climate change.
  • Set criteria for digital projects, assessing and prioritising the positive effects and mitigating their negative effects.

Application areas

  • The topic areas in the section above illustrate the main application areas for 2024 (and beyond).
  • There will be a focus on AI impact and how to ensure a balance in favour of benefits.
  • Open engagement with the public, staff and suppliers will be helpful in explaining plans.

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

Public sector CIOs and digital leaders will need to be careful how they articulate benefits, risks, and mitigation of IT impacts, ensuring that this does not sound like a ‘voice of dissention’, ‘doom’ or a negative brake on ambition or developments.

Impact cases from around the world

South London Partnership:
InnOvaTe ‘Internet of Things’ Programme 

The InnOvaTe Programme is using the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) to help South London Partnership boroughs manage and mitigate new challenges arising from Covid-19, drive economic recovery, and pilot solutions to help people live better and healthier lives.

Christchurch City Council, New Zealand/Aotearoa: Smart poles project

This video describes the Kōtuitui smart poles project in Naval Point, Littleton, that is designed to lace, interface, interlink and connect to enable better service provision and emergency response by stakeholders as part of a redevelopment of the area.

DuPage County, Illinois, USA: winter weather solution

The DuPage County Division of Transportation (DuDOT) needed a solution that would provide operational awareness during snow events. ESRI’s winter weather solution was able to provide a real time solution to meet the data needs for operational awareness, improved material tracking, and post event analysis.

City of Prato, Italy: Weaving the digital future in Prato

In his presentation to the Major Cities of Europe annual conference 2023, Paulo Boscolo sets out a pragmatic approach to curating a string of digital and ICT projects into a digital strategy serving the people of the city.

Socitm Says podcast: Green and sustainable IT with Alex Bardell and Nathaniel Comer

This episode of the podcast focuses on the global problem of electronic waste, the IT lifecycle emissions and the responsible disposal of electronic waste to reduce environmental impact, thereby contributing to achieving net zero targets.

London Borough of Hounslow: PETRAS – Taking IoT for a walk

Together with the digital and IT team, the leader of the council and I had a few councillors, residents and colleagues join us on a walk around Hounslow looking at sensors and internet of things devices — some real and some made up — to generate debate.

Technology for public good – beyond 2024

It is likely that 2024 will see a gradually increasing focus on this topic, but not a revolution. Beyond 2024, the topic will become more critical, for a variety of reasons:

  • Public pressure for greater transparency, growing concerns over data risks and the demand for better digital services.
  • Emerging technologies, such as AI, will enable new insights into the causes of a range of societal ‘ills’ and opportunities to redesign public services to mitigate and prevent their occurrence.
  • Worsening climate change will be monitored by new AI, showing impacts and causes, with ever-more accuracy and predictive powers. The public will expect “green” choices to be made by the public services that serve them and their partners.
  • Digital disruption impacting jobs and skills will grow with greater automation. Inequitable impacts on communities and places will need to be avoided.

In the next few years, public services will need to show that they are taking a lead on the use of digital, data and technology (DDaT) for long-term public good, not just short-term automation and efficiency.

For example, Forrester research predicts that there will be a big fall in trust in governments globally in the decade ahead, particularly in respect of their role in infrastructure management. Western leaders have an opportunity to set a global example in digital, data and technology infrastructure investment and how the IT industry can support new jobs, new opportunities and social value in areas such as personal data use and management.

Environmental, social and governance reporting (ESG) will develop over time and be augmented by the ability of tools, such as AI and digital and data analytics to develop natural capital accounting measures to better quantify the impact that public services have, through technology, on their populations and places.

A strong grip of this topic will drive economic, social, and environmental benefits, leading to wider prosperity and value. But the reverse is also true, so planning now is essential. There will be a key role for digital and IT leaders in this, being able to describe and lead a measured route to ‘IT for public good’.

This message needs to be a positive one, balancing risks with benefits, and cost with opportunity, whilst always placing people at the heart of digital design.


2. Reimagining services

The implications of the technology trends for 2024 presented in this report are unprecedented. More than just making existing services more efficient, productive and user-friendly, these technology trends offer the possibility of a new definition of public services, built on dynamic digital and data foundations, which increase access and empower service users and workers.

Even where services are face-to-face, such as in a hospital, they are increasingly underpinned by a mesh of digitised service components, from booking systems to tracking, diagnostics, connected and automated micro services, and sophisticated data analytics.

For example, ambient technologies which collect data in the background from multiple sources, are less invasive and ‘always on’, adapting dynamically in real-time to individual service user needs. This can lead to the creation of new virtual services, redesigned from the ‘bottom up’, unfettered by the construct of outdated organisational models.

This long-term trend of reimagining public services has already begun and will be an increasing focus in 2024 to reflect changing citizen needs, IT opportunities and economic constraints.

Connecting local public services

“Our use of data has enabled us to adapt services and provide more tailored support to meet individual needs, but our work is not yet done. As technology continues to evolve, so must we. This strategy sets out how we will build on these successes and continue to innovate to improve services and support local people.”

Cllr Margaret McLennan Deputy leader, London Borough of Brent

Reimagining public services also lies at the heart of ‘connected places’, a concept and key policy theme for Socitm in 2024. Moving beyond narrow ‘smart city’ thinking, connected places are founded on digital models that embrace whole systems, with the aim of creating and sustaining environmental, social and economic conditions in which people and communities can thrive in any setting, urban or rural, large or small.

Connected places themes

Socitm connected places themes:

  • Community resilience
  • Data
  • Democratic and community engagement
  • Economy and business
  • Education, skills and jobs
  • Environment, sustainability and energy
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Imagining connected places
  • Travel and mobility

‘Reimagining places’ trend summary for 2024

Overview of the opportunity

  • Public bodies should consider their role in developing ‘connected places’ and the contribution that digital and technology can play in delivering improved public service outcomes that cross public service boundaries.
  • Redefining public services in this way is often the only option addressing resource limitations and the increasing need to connect across traditional public service boundaries.

Risks and challenges

  • Complex change associated with service redesign is the biggest challenge. More than improving existing services using IT and digital methods, this is about cross-boundary working, automation and a whole system, place-based risk model.
  • The lack of involvement of all stakeholders – staff, residents, suppliers and partners – insufficient consultation and lack of early involvement in design and development can compromise delivery of desired outcomes.

Early benefits

  • There is an inevitability about fundamental change to public service provision enabled by digital, data and technology. Putting this off will not make it any easier, while gradual ‘organic’ change is likely to be too slow and generating only marginal improvements.
  • Starting with overcoming boundary challenges that demonstrate collectively redesigned public services can produce early benefits.

Where to start

  • Harness data to understand where to target limited resources and to reimagine service models to achieve the best possible outcomes.
  • Key areas will be in relational services, where there may already be an appetite for collaborative projects that drive greater efficiency, productivity and improvements for residents and service users.
  • Look at others’ successes, locally, nationally, and internationally.
  • The nature of ‘work’ is being redefined and is an opportunity to reimagine how services could be provisioned differently.

Application areas

  • Consider related services, mapped against the appetite within the organisation for service redesign and partnership delivery, for example:
  • Health and social care, with community services.
  • Crime and its causes, linked to local government services.
  • Scope for automation, enabling citizens safely to do more for themselves.
  • Consider how a flexible workforce can be an opportunity for new types of service delivery.

Advice for CIOs and Digital Leaders

  • There are key technologies that can stimulate this sort of change, such as low code/no code – embrace them.
  • Consider wider supply chain opportunities in how data and digital services develop, both from the private sector and in how public-sector partners can cooperate.
  • Help the organisation to understand the potential of technology and digital change to reimagine public services by starting the conversation in 2024. But keep grounded in reality.

Impact cases from around the world

London Borough of Brent: Tech-tastic Tale! Ctrl+ Alt+ Delivering Digital Transformation 

Brent Council refreshed their digital strategy to become a digital place and a digital council. They refocus their priorities by changing the way they think and do things and prepare better for the future.

Birmingham City Council: Rethinking smart city governance

A city-wide collaboration programme that aims to equip Birmingham’s institutions, communities and businesses with the digital infrastructure, data platforms and enablement initiatives required to thrive in the future.

Tauranga City Council, New Zealand/Aotearoa: City beautification project (video)

See how the council is empowering front-line grounds maintenance staff with information at their fingertips linked to the council’s existing job prioritisation and allocation system.

Taupō District Council, New Zealand/Aotearoa: Energising the customer relationship experience

Video explaining the council’s approach to virtual, hybrid working and virtual service delivery to energise the customer relationship experience for residents and tourists.

Reimagining services – beyond 2024

As virtual reality (VR) systems and artificial intelligence (AI) combine, so will the development of immersive reality, with a new range of applications that could spawn a public service ‘metaverse’ – imagine a world where individual citizens can build and link their own virtual services in real time, with portable personal ID security credentials, microsystems platforms and data.

Citizens already expect digital public services to be joined-up (even when they are not), easy to access on their smart phones and to generate meaningful value to solve their issues and needs.

Public service organisations will be expected to meet this challenge, including in how they are working towards better implementation with partners and IT suppliers to deliver a very different solution from traditional ‘IT services’. This will be a big change in the decade ahead.

Who I am and what I need today - a public service 'metaverse', built on spatial technologies, data and AI.
Around the image, clouds with the following text:
1. Portable ID and security credential
2. My data, my control
3. Customisable micro service components
4. 3-D service  visualisation
5. Tracking and service path management tools
6. My avatars, my needs, my preferences, my technology
7. Network of interoperable digital service platforms
8. Specialist digital platforms synchronised
9. Synchronised location-based services
10. Immersive Public  Services

3. Community resilience

In the context of ‘digital and IT’, public service organisations have traditionally focused on cyber threats – protecting their perimeter network defences and being vigilant to internal malpractice. Stronger IT intrusion detection, and a better educated workforce have all helped organisations to prevent, detect and deal with cyber risks.

2024 will see a significant change in this agenda for public services, with a focus on the contribution of digital and IT to the mitigation of a community-wide risks, as public services operate in a connected system of inter-dependent services, communities, geographies, and infrastructures.

Protecting this wider system is key to the resilience and functioning of public services:

Community resilience planning (at local, national and global level)
Digital activity - Create, exacerbate or mitigate community risks

“These new innovations are enabling emergency planners to model risks affecting the county to maximise response, improve communication and coordination and reduce, as practically as possible, the impacts on the wider communities of the county. Creating the new caravan dataset in particular will dramatically improve intelligence.” 

Steve Eason-Harris, emergency planning officer at Lincolnshire County Council who is also the lead officer for geospatial information and resilient communities for the Local Resilience Forum.

Therefore, 2024 will see a growing trend for public bodies to look to their digital supply chains, local partners, national bodies, and community organisations, to collaborate on digital solutions that help to build greater local resilience and community response to changing threats of all types.

Cyber resilient public services steps:
1. Interconnected services
2. Scenario testing and Shared data intelligence
3 Collaboration

‘Community resilience’ trend summary for 2024

Overview of the opportunity

  • The integrated nature of whole system working and the benefits that this integration can bring are evident in many areas. By addressing wider risks and dependencies, public services can be bolder in their digital developments, confident that community resilience and public trust are protected.

Risks and challenges:

  • It is no longer enough to focus solely within your existing organisational boundaries in contingency and resilience planning. Public service organisations in connected places need to work together to ensure robust, resilient, and responsive services that work together.
  • Technology, data and digital infrastructures are enablers that serve and protect community interests and must themselves be treated as key risks.

Early benefits

  • Early benefits always become clear if an incident occurs. However, being transparent about the risk and the benefits, and the role of digital in building stronger community resilience, can help to avoid a crisis.
  • This preparation will also reduce the impact of an incident should one occur, whilst building trust and confidence in the security of community infrastructure and responses to crises for services, partners, and the public.

Where to start

  • Bring emergency, business continuity, and IT disaster recovery together, across services and organisations, building an auditable, continuum of services and community resilience plans.
  • Conduct desktop scenario exercises to demonstrate how digital, technology and data can provide new insights and methods to strengthen community readiness to civic disruption.

Application areas

  • It is important to consider IT security and business continuity planning within the organisation, but then to consider the wider, distributed digital infrastructure that serves and protects communities.
  • Consider how supply chains and key relationships with partner organisations can share data, technology and digital practices to strengthen resilience collectively.

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • CIOs should talk to their local WARPs and partners in public service organisations, to share experiences of where collaboration could reduce risks and costs of resilience investments.
  • It is important to consider risks beyond IT and to ensure appropriate political and executive oversight. This means being able to communicate clearly, in business terms, the nature of community resilience and the role of the public service organisation in relation to this.

Impact cases from around the world

Lincolnshire County Council: Lincolnshire Resilience Forum extends use of geospatial tech in emergency planning

The council deployed image recognition and drone applications with a real time mapping dashboard to identify static caravans in the event of emergencies such as flooding and severe weather.

London Borough of Barnet: Barnet net zero campaign

BarNET ZERO is a borough-wide campaign with ambitions to achieve a net zero council by 2030 and a net zero borough by 2042, this initiative showcases a ground-up commitment to sustainability, stands as a beacon of transparency, innovation, and resilience.

Bristol City Council: Bristol One City

The Bristol One City Approach brings together a huge range of public, private, voluntary and third sector partners to work together to make Bristol fairer, healthier and more sustainable.

Christchurch City Council, New Zealand/Aotearoa: Smart Christchurch Strategy

New technology, innovative citizen engagement and strategic solutions to help make the city a smarter, safer and more resilient place to live, work and play.

Wellington City Council, New Zealand/Aotearoa: Climate adaption digital city model

Video describing how the city council is employing a data-driven climate adaptation roadmap to engage communities and stakeholders, using compelling digital tools and visualisation technologies to help build resilience.

Catapult, Connected Places: Best fit climate innovation – Solutions for India, Mexico and Peru

The Morgenstadt Global Smart Cities Initiative (MGI) worked with three mid-sized cities to co-designed prioritisation metrics and implemented solution across buildings, mobility, and urban planning sectors in three innovation districts.

Smart Christchurch Initiatives
Source: Christchurch City Council Smart Christchurch Strategy 2022–2025
Guidance

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT)
Secure connected places international evidence project

The report provides an overview of the initiatives that countries have adopted at a regional, national, and international level.

Community resilience technologies – beyond 2024

The unceasing migration towards digital public services, whether replacing direct human-to-human interaction or enabling it, and the growing dependency on connected community infrastructures built on digital foundations, mean that the role of digital and IT in community resilience planning will continue to grow and mature.

Public service organisations have a central part to play in this beyond simply the provision of their own digital services on a resilient and secure basis. Their role will extend to the use of technology and digital methods to mitigate wider risks to social, environmental, and economic stability for the communities that they serve.


4. Local and national leadership

In 2022, the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) released a whitepaper, titled ‘Transforming for a Digital Future: 2022 to 2025 Roadmap for Digital and Data,’ outlining a unified vision for digital transformation across central government by 2025.

This roadmap outlines the ambition to drive efficiency, to improve digital skills and to modernise the way government services are delivered – an example of strategic vision for digital services being developed by national governments everywhere.

However, the real challenge with digital strategies, ‘roadmaps’, ‘playbooks’, and ‘blueprints’ lies in their implementation. That is the task for public services in all countries in 2024, balancing:

  • The needs and interests of citizens
  • Hyper-local services
  • Regional development
  • National government interests

This implementation challenge in 2024 brings together national, regional, and local priorities in joined-up digital projects, and depends on a range of factors, such as:

  • Skills and capability: Do we have the necessary skills and understanding to implement complex change programmes that reflect national ambition and local needs? More than simply being able to buy in skills, a range of internal capability and experience is required that understands digital and IT opportunities from a national and a local perspective.
  • Authority to act: The pace of change generates a need for governance and decision-making processes that can move in an agile and confident fashion. These require appropriate reward structures, as well as accountability for decisions, that cross traditional service boundaries. And they require sufficient devolution of ownership from ‘central’ to ‘local’.
  • Resources and money: Often seen as a limiting factor, the realignment of scarce public sector resources towards digital development and technology investment is not easy, depending on business cases that are difficult to construct and learning lessons from past problems. Underinvestment in both digital and IT remains a challenge for public services in 2024, along with a tendency to over-centralise.
  • Place-based leadership: The need for strong, place-based digital leadership, within a national and regional framework, and local implementation teams, is critical for digital success of public services in 2024. Digital programmes that lack strong sponsorship from executive leaders, nationally and locally, are often held back by politics or practical challenges that could have been avoided.
  • Joined-up policies: Connected places and ‘whole system’ working require national and local policies to be joined up across traditional spans of responsibility: geography, organisations, services, and systems. Sometimes national policies and developments fail to understand the complexity of local implementation. Local implementations can be constrained by undertaking them through the lens of specific services or institutions.

Public service organisations in 2024 will need to focus collectively to address digital planning, programme delivery, holistic policies, leadership, and governance spanning different tiers of delivery. This is central to maximising ‘IT for public good’, ‘community resilience’, and the ‘reimagining of public services’ trends prioritised for 2024.

‘Local and national leadership’ trend summary 2024

Overview of the opportunity

  • In a post-Covid world, with the emergence of a range of new and rapidly maturing technologies, and a desire to redefine public services to optimise digital operation, 2024 presents an unprecedented pantheon of possibilities requiring careful consideration and leadership.
  • This depends less on technology prowess than it does on strong, experienced and forward-thinking leadership that can span national, local and community interests.

Risks and challenges

  • There are many risks and challenges in this area, particularly regarding the ability to break out of traditional hierarchies and spans of control, often with centralised resources, and decision-making.
  • New governance models will challenge both individual leaders as well as the traditional powerbases on which their organisations have operated.

Early benefits

The benefits of collaborative and modernised leadership of digital developments are clear to see in regions that have made most progress.

Where to start

  • Start in areas where there is a clear link between national and local priorities and identify the policy dependencies. For example, integration of health and social care at a local level was shown to work during the Covid period and, in many countries, is being enabled by new strategies, organisational and funding arrangements.
  • Describe the models of leadership that work, the skills required and the governance arrangements that can make a difference, respecting but clarifying boundaries of responsibility.

Application areas

There are many areas, but the most commonly emerging in 2024 include:

  • Health and social care
  • Transport
  • Environmental and economic regeneration
  • Data sharing and common interests

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • This is a challenging area for CIOs and digital leaders since it depends on change outside their usual sphere of influence. However, starting conversations, which focus on the possibilities and best practice examples, can help to demonstrate the benefits.
  • Within the scope of responsibilities of CIOs and digital leaders, there are opportunities for changing arrangements and engagement across regional and national digital leadership to encourage change.

Impact cases from around the world

Matt Masters, former Chief Executive at South Lakeland District Council: The Truth about Local Government by Matt Masters

Podcast talking about the need for fundamental transformational change within local government. The factors that need to be addressed before true change can take place and why change has not been widespread engaged with at this point in local government.

Region of Tuscany, Italy: Digital innovation in Tuscany

Gianluca Vannucinni sets out a digital roadmap for the region, working with a wide range of stakeholders including citizens, local governments, regional agencies and national organisations in his presentation to the Major Cities of Europe annual conference 2023.

West Midlands Combined Authority: West Midlands Plan for Growth

The West Midlands Authority has been working for some years to integrate transport, health and social care and other public services to benefit people living in connected communities. This has been dependent on new models of governance that combine local and national leadership, policies and decision making.

Local Government Management Association, Ireland: Digital Local Government – Working for Everyone (video)

Irish local authorities provide more than 1,000 services. To harness the power of digital to deliver our services more efficiently. Better services for the public, better ways of working for our staff.

Guidance

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT)
Secure connected places playbook

Resources to help local authorities secure connected places ("smart cities") from cyber risks. This alpha release is subject to further testing and iteration.

Local and national leadership – beyond 2024

It is difficult to predict how things will change in this area, but there is a growing realisation that the success of national digital strategies depends on local, place-based implementation, and local digital programmes depend on externally focused leadership.

This means that the design and delivery of national systems, policies and standards must have sufficient involvement and influence at a local level at formulation, not as an afterthought to ensure consultation has ‘ticked the boxes. New models of devolution that maximise the potential of digital, whilst ensuring compliance with national standards and regulations, can empower local communities to develop and implement digital services that reflect their own unique position: geography, politics, demography, population, health and density, and a mix of economic, social, and environmental priorities.


5. Skills and capacity

The dependency of public service organisations on digital skills and capacity has become a major challenge moving into 2024, in all countries. This is driven by:

  • Market pressures, where demands for scarce digital and technology skills are outstripping supply.
  • Technology developments, such as AI, cyber and data science, which require new skills and job roles.
  • Lower pay in many public service organisations compared with the private sector, sometimes because these skills are undervalued or misunderstood.

Public service organisations in 2024 are combatting this challenge in a number of innovative ways:

  • Pay
    Innovation in rewarding talent and performance, recognition and awards, performance pay, pensions, position impact of job with suitable benchmarking.
  • Marketing jobs
    Role of IT, dependency and impact of digital, location, exciting projects with real public impact, imaginative adverts, winning awards.
  • Digitally mature
    Leading edge work is attractive to IT and digital specialists. Led from the top, strong vision. Modern vibrant ‘digital business delivering public service’.
  • New roles
    Data science, AI, digital architects and engineers, agents of change – IT and digital jobs are maturing, changing and important.
  • Flexible working
    Don’t force ‘back to the office’, promote part time, support outside work interests and partnership working, balance work and life, offer new contracts models and job share.
  • Training and skills
    Job share, apprenticeships, career development and planning, mentoring and coaching, time for skills transfer and growth, secondments

By keeping with of digital, technology and data developments, public services organisations are more likely to build and to stimulate innovation, creativity, and digital leadership.

Simply paying more for scarce digital and IT skills is not likely to be an answer. For most organisations, other tactics must be deployed to make public services attractive: marketing benefits, career opportunities, positive cultures, flexible working, valuing contributions, and innovations.

For many people pay is not the main or only motivator; they are often looking for a great place to work, to live, to bring up a family and spend their leisure time. They want flexibility and exciting work with prospects. Power lies with employees, especially younger members of staff, and things such as employee productivity monitoring with flexible working, should be treated with care.

‘Skills and capacity’ trend summary 2024

Overview of the opportunity

  • Being creative can attract and build a dynamic and capable digital and IT workforce, blended with external resources.
  • This is an opportunity requiring imagination from HR, politicians and digital leaders to promote the benefits of working in the public sector and to be creative about recruitment, pay and working practices.

Risks and challenges

  • If public service organisations misunderstand the role or value of digital and IT in a modern public service organisation, they will struggle to recruit and retain the skills they need.
  • Outdated HR practices – pay, recognition, flexible working, career progression – are the biggest barrier to being able to compete and to avoid the costs of dependent on bought in services.

Early benefits

Sufficient capacity and capability in IT and digital will provide immediate value, particularly in optimising IT infrastructures, cyber and information protection and delivery of successful digital programmes that generate service and public value.

Where to start

  • Digital leaders need to ensure that the Board has the knowledge, experience and understanding of the difference between ‘digital’ and ‘IT’, and why skills in both professional disciplines are needed.
  • Consider IT itself – both internal and external: its current capability and benchmark performance. Is it a blocker or barrier? Why? What needs to change?
  • Be clear on digital accountability of individual leaders across the organisation, including in the separation of technology outcomes and digital performance.

Application areas

  • Flexibility and organisation of recruitment, retention and recognition of policies relating to digital and IT.
  • Consideration of where skills are lacking and what needs to be done about this: for example AI, data science, infrastructure, cloud and cybersecurity.
  • Onboarding of apprentices.

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • 2024 will be challenging for digital and IT leaders. Skills will be hard to come by, staffing budgets will be constrained, and external costs will increase. An imaginative and flexible approach will be needed to complete and to deliver what is required.
  • The benefits of recruiting, retaining, and recognising digital IT skills needs to be explained to the Board, positively. CIOs need to balance ‘digital’ and ‘IT’ and explain the difference in business terms.

Impact cases from around the world

Norfolk County Council: Apprenticeships to provide a talent pipeline

The apprenticeship programme can help to increase the number of work opportunities, improve the services we deliver ed by the council and increase digital skills across the county.

Public Service Commission, New Zealand/Aotearoa: New Zealand’s spirit of service 

The Public Service Commission promotes the “spirit of service” which is underpinned by the country’s Public Service Act 2020 and since 2018 has included an annual public service day and an awards programme.

Skills and capacity – beyond 2024

Ensuring that the public sector has the resources it needs to fuel its development of complex digital programmes, including internal digital and IT skills, will continue to be a challenge. Over the next few years, there will be strong competition for skills in areas such as data science, cyber, artificial intelligence, and complex infrastructure management. This is in addition to the ongoing need for project, programme, and supply chain management.

Public sector organisations need to determine what skills they need to retain in-house, and where it would be more cost-effective to use co-hosted skills, apprentices, contractors, or private sector partners, dependent on factors, such as size of organisation. Failing to address digital and IT skills planning will result in an expensive dependency on external resources.

Local partnerships can potentially be used to share scare skills and roles across organisational boundaries, and greater clarity on the difference between IT and digital can allow more precise identification of resource needs, accountability, and prioritisation.

Relevant Socitm resources