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Public sector digital trends 2024 collection | Article

Other trends

There are many other technologies and potential digital trends not listed here that we came across during research for this year’s report. It’s not that these are unimportant, just that they appear lower down on the list of priorities and practice.

For example, here are a few of the technology trends that we have covered in previous years:

  • Low Code/No Code: Increasingly used in many organisations as a ‘business of usual application’ to build faster and better software applications, often associated with other functionality. It’s useful and continue to grow and mature during 2024.
  • Quantum computing: Beginning to appear in specialist application areas, such as research, although issues over environmental costs of processing require attention.
  • Blockchain: Regularly featuring in articles, it still has a relatively low profile in the public sector, and significant concerns over processing costs remain.
  • 3D printing: This was promoted as a technology that would appear in every home and business. That never happened, but it is now an important application in a range of industries.
  • Driverless cars: Whilst five years ago some predicted that public services would need to adapt transport planning to accommodate driverless cars, we correctly foresaw that regulation, risk and trust issues would take a longer time to resolve
  • Drones: Drones are a widely used technology, mostly for surveillance and spatial planning applications. Expansion into, for example, home delivery using drones, we continue to predict is some time off.
  • 6G: Upgrades of mobile networks will continue, but the focus for most public bodies is on consolidating existing capacity (3-5G) and fixing areas with very poor or no coverage.
  • IoT: ‘Internet of things’ is imbedded in many of our digital and technology trends for 2024, but as an individual trend it has become ‘business as usual’. Its role in connecting networks of data is a powerful part of the digital trends that we identify in 2024.
  • Biometrics: This is a technology of increasing importance. However, it did not appear strongly in the research that we undertook for 2024. It is more likely to be embedded in a range of new applications, especially around portable identity.
  • DNA and bio-tech: This is becoming increasingly relevant in a range of health informatics applications such as gene therapy (more than just paternity suits and ancestry testing).
  • Social Networks: These are ubiquitous but are also growing in the range of options available. It does create some confusion in how public authorities can best harness social media for better public service engagement and delivery in 2024, and beyond.
  • Apps: Far from a new technology trend, the development of citizen-focused apps has become commonplace. However, the key challenge for public service organisations is to manage the growing array of task-specific apps, such as parking, health, and other place-based service apps (‘my town’, ‘my council’ etc).
  • RFID: A technology that was a significant development when launched, RFID tags are now everywhere, implanted in assets from equipment to livestock.
  • Video conferencing: Used to be a key trend until Covid, when almost overnight, everyone started using it. It is now a business as usual application, but still has got considerable potential to improve public services, as the technology becomes better than ‘Teams’ and ‘Zoom’.
  • GPS: Hyper-accurate GPS is included in our ‘spatial technologies’ trend. An accuracy within a few millimetres is opening up new possibilities in a range of digital applications.
  • RPA: Robotic process automation is a trend that we have used before, but, like IOT, it is becoming Integrated in other applications, rather than a technology trend in its own right. The opportunities are considerable in digital automation.

Harnessing digital Innovation in public services in 2024

All of our digital trends, and a number of the technology trends require a degree of research, experimentation and risk-taking in order to be successfully deployed. One of the challenges in 2024 for public service organisations is how to make space for innovation in the face of a growing array of operational day-to-day pressures.

Ironically, it is the unprecedented pressures on public services that generate digital innovation to change and transform operating models. However, taking on new and innovative projects, with their risks, uncertainties of success and investments needs, can prove difficult to justify.

From our research for this report, creating the right climate for digital innovation is the starting point, and will not only increase the likelihood of success, but also help to identify the right target projects and the basis for benefits realisation. Four themes standout from the leaders involved in our research:

Having an appropriate risk model agreed at board level which defines appetite for risk. This means having structures that allow mistakes and waste withing boundaries of accountability, and with strong tracking and monitoring to trap problems early and stop major failures.

Creating the space for less structured digital projects and testing of new ideas. For example, allowing an informal approach to ‘small works’, a small budget for experimentation, rewards for ‘good ideas’ that can be delivered, avoiding the suffocation of over-engineered controls.

Developing appropriate governance models that track projects but tolerate flexibility. This may require a new approach from PMOs, board reporting and benefits tracking. Building ‘centres of innovation’ is not necessarily the best approach, since innovation can occur in any part of the organisation.

Promoting a culture that encourages digital experimentation and appropriate risk taking. This means defining the boundaries of acceptability in innovation works and how it should function in the context of the organisations priorities. Securing successful digital innovation advantage has a huge value to an organisation and few leaders are capable of delivering this. It therefore also needs appropriate reward and incentivisation.

Creating this climate, requires a clear understanding of the distinctive contributions of ‘digital’ and ‘technology’ innovations:

Digital possibilities driven by service and citizen needs. A graph of stacked boxes, as follows:
Top: Citizen and service-centered needs
2nd line -3 boxes - Box 1:Community and service context (links to box 2), Box2: Digital possibilities and ideas (links to Line 1 and Line 2), External pressures and opportunities (links to Box 2)
3rd line: Climate and culture of innovation (links to line 2)
4th line: Technology possibilities (links to line 3)

Public sector CIOs and digital leaders in 2024

Prioritisation, strong communication, and familiarisation with new technologies will be key to success for public sector CIOs and digital leaders in 2024, avoiding problems with technology projects that all too often afflict public services.

One area that CIOs will need to consider in preparing for the future, is the organisation of technology delivery models, including skills and governance. A new approach is needed on a number of aspects in preparing for the future. This will depend on wider organisational digital maturity.

CIOs and digital leaders can do much to encourage necessary change:

  1. Consider digital and IT capacity and succession planning, and the balance between internal and external skills, especially in areas that will be required to exploit some of the new technologies.
  2. Consider how IT and digital performance and business cases are reported, including risk modelling and benefits realisation. This includes an objective assessment about whether internal IT models and strategies are fit for the future.
  3. Become the organisation’s expert in new technology areas, such as artificial intelligence and some of the other key technology trends described in this report. Notably, ensure you have a sufficient grip on cyber risk across the organisation.
  4. Ensure there is adequate focus on cloud and infrastructure, with appropriate architecture plans (digital and IT) to anticipate infrastructure pressures.
  5. Do not blur the distinction between “digital” and “technology”. It’s tempting for CIOs to see their career direction in becoming a CDO, but care is needed to ensure digital maturity is not masked by technical competence.
  6. Hone your political and communication skills – success in IT depends on the ability to persuade and influence others, especially in the need and value of investing in digital and IT.
  7. Put in place an agreed technology architecture and digital architecture, being clear on the distinction in the governance model surrounding each these.

The following diagram captures the key elements to consider in how IT and digital sit in the wider construct of the organisation’s activities and plans:

IT and digital models fit for the future graph

On the left: three circles, like a dart board.
Smallest circle: Technology and innovation
Middle circle: Technology infrastructures and security
Largest circle: Digital platforms, policies and concepts.
The largest circle also links to a box on the right hand side, which lists: Data architectures, Delivery channels, People, Processes, Tools and systems

The pace of digital and technology change in the public sector in 2024 will have a significant impact on skills (a trend we identify this year as prominent).  Simply buying in external capacity and specialists on a contract and consultancy basis is not always the best route. Apart from the cost, the lack of continuity, problems with team cohesion, and limited availability on the market can all create obstacles to digital programmes.

CIOs and digital leaders will need to assess the skills they need for the future, internally and externally, and consider some of the new roles likely to be sought after:

  • Cloud Architect
  • DevOps Manager
  • Digital Risk Analyst
  • Automation Engineer
  • VR/AR Designer
  • Chief Security Officer
  • Digital CX Designer
  • RPA Designer and Engineer
  • Chief Data Officer
  • AI Engineer and Architect
  • Digital Product Designer
  • Data Scientist
  • Digital Architect
  • Technology Architect
  • Business Intelligence Analyst
  • Digital Supply Chain Manager
  • Cyber Security Specialist
  • Security Automation Engineer

With so much digital activity, and so much potential from new technology, 2024 will be a challenging as well as exciting year ahead for digital and IT leaders in the public sector, requiring recalibration and adjustments to be prepared for what lies ahead.