It's a challenging time to be bold with redesigning services but you can do it. Learn more....

Public sector digital trends 2024 collection | Article

Technology trends

Jump to trend:

1. Artificial intelligence
2. Harnessing data
3. Cyber protection
4. Geospatial technologies
5. Infrastructure and cloud

1. Artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is arguably the key technology trend for 2024, in almost every sector. Barely a day goes past when we do not read about the amazing possibilities, or the significant new risks that this technology poses.

Governments around the world are responding in different ways: the global conference on AI held in the UK in November 2023 at Bletchley Park, EU AI Act and US President’s Executive Order.

Meanwhile, Socitm has instigated a St George’s House Consultation on the threats and opportunities presented by AI for local public services.

Generative AI in particular (creating new insights or materials from the data on which an AI tool was trained), and large language models (LLMs) promise huge value to the public sector, creating a radical shift in how connected data sets can be analysed, summarised, and used.

This offers a potential key to unlocking productivity within public service organisations. 2024 will start to see public service organisations using AI already embedded in existing applications and office tools. Socitm, and most public sector CIOs see AI as a transformation force for good, if the threats are controlled and other concerns are addressed.

“At a time when we are trying to further develop and revamp the area, VivaCity’s sensor’s data is crucial in helping optimise travel and safety for all.”

Dean Hubbard, project engineer for Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council.

Despite the hype, it is nonetheless difficult to predict the pace of AI adoption in the public sector. According to the Public attitudes to data and AI: Tracker survey “The public is optimistic about the potential for AI to streamline everyday tasks, and to improve key public services including healthcare, policing, and education. Nonetheless, a spectrum of risks is recognised by the public. Most notably, there is widespread concern that AI will displace jobs, particularly among non-graduates, and that AI will erode human creativity and problem-solving skills”. Alongside unquestionable opportunity, there are risks that will need to be addressed (such as made-up content – so-called hallucinations – bias, and new cyber threats), and the pace is likely to be dictated by two factors identified in this research:

  • The capability and capacity to take on complex AI projects in the public sector, given many other pressing priorities and challenges, and limited AI experience. Projects are emerging, but they tend to be in specific and bounded applications, such as health diagnostics and customer service.
  • Compliance and regulatory concerns, data quality, procurement policies, risks of bias, transparency of algorithms and concerns about liabilities will add to the barriers for public sector organisations and will need to be addressed.

This year’s digital trends research indicates that, whilst AI is undoubtedly a significant development and the coming year will begin to see use of AI in diverse areas, the majority of public service leaders will take a cautious approach. Most will be undertaking preparations, reviewing guidance, measuring the benefits and risks, undertaking compliance assessments, developing policy frameworks, introducing governance arrangements and prioritising project planning. ‘Data readiness’ will be key to success, and another reason why ‘data’ is now such an important trend for the public sector.

Early application will be in areas such as: health diagnostics, customer service, data consolidation and reporting, property maintenance, road maintenance and traffic, office service automation, risk management, education and learning, legal services, auditing, procurement processes and more – the list will grow in 2024.

“Policymakers need to know how many houses they must decarbonize, but they often lack the resources to perform detailed audits on every house. Our model can direct them to high priority houses, saving them precious time and resources.”

Dr. Ronita Bardhan, head of Cambridge’s Sustainable Design Group.

This means that in 2024 the use of AI in most public sector organisations will be exploratory, focused on specific areas and trials, such as voice recognition, data analyses and diagnostics, while developing polices to procure and manage AI and that contain its risks.

Optimising workflows and AI-supported decision-making will begin in 2024 using objective data analyses to make the decision basis more transparent. AI will begin to streamline processes where teams of professionals, committees and decision-making hierarchies currently ensure a collective responsibility and understanding of the impact of decisions.

There are many factors for public service organisations to consider in adopting AI in 2024:

  • Analyse vast amount of data
  • Balancing risk and benefits
  • Cost management and efficiency
  • Data integration and triangulation
  • Data readiness
  • Enhanced decision-making
  • Internal staff productivity
  • Prediction and prevention
  • Process automation
  • Sharing best practices
  • Skills required
  • Streamline processes
  • Tech for good

Artificial intelligence – trend summary for 2024

Overview of the opportunity

  • Specific application areas, broadening from public service interfaces into wider opportunities where trialling will begin.
  • Analysis across disparate data sets to gain new insights, and potential individual and team productivity improvements.

Risks and challenges

  • Managing the unintended bias, error, ethical concerns and reputational risk (noting that AI can sometimes simply ‘make things up’ if not checked).
  • Skills shortages, both within and outside technology areas.
  • New cyber risks from AI used as an attack vector.

Early benefits

  • Mostly in increased service automation, but this will gradually grow in all areas of public service.
  • Insight into opportunities for early intervention and preventative services.
  • Exploring how AI can help to improve outcomes by understanding complex data relationships in a range of cross-service functions.

Where to start

  • Ensure there is clear policy, ownership and understanding of AI and its implications in the organisation before deploying at scale.
  • Undertake a risk analysis of AI (including new external cyber risks), and ensure human intervention is always present as a ‘safety valve’.
  • Develop in-house skills and senior/political awareness and leadership.
  • Consider AI in monitoring and reporting.

Application areas

  • Citizen service interfaces and workflows can be improved and automated, creating new and more engaging ways of working across a range of connected public services.
  • Specific applications, for example, in health diagnostics and customer services – ‘big data analysis’ and the use of ‘chatbots.
  • Embedded in other applications and tools.
  • Gradually, all services will need to consider the possibilities of AI.

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • Do not be swept along with the hype from suppliers and consultants; AI will take time, and care is needed.
  • Develop a good understanding of AI opportunities, risks, and the functioning of generative AI, to be the organisation’s ‘expert advisor’ on AI.
  • Consider how the risks associated with AI are best controlled and be the expert in this area.
Socitm Says podcast – Episode 5: Generative AI with Kurt Frary and Sam Nutt

Impact cases from around the world

Derby City Council: Phone-based AI assistance

The innovative journey of Derby City Council and their use of phone-based AI assistance to dramatically streamline their customer service operations. AI assistants have efficiently handled over 100,000 queries, deflected 43% of calls away from human advisors, and contributed to an impressive budget savings of £200,000.

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council: AI sensors to tackle congestion hotspot 

The installation of a network of 65 VivaCity sensors to tackle an ongoing congestion issue. The data collected from the sensors has allowed Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council to make a data-driven decision to tackle congestion.

State of Pennsylvania, USA: GenAI pilot for state employees

A partnership with OpenAI to pilot generative AI tools for state employees and to guide responsible future use and development of the tools in the public space.

Amazon Web Services (AWS): Business value of Generative AI

Examples demonstrating reinvention of customer experiences, productivity enhancement, creativity and content creation and process optimisation.

State of Maryland, USA: Revolutionizing the digital experience using AI

Plans to overhaul IT services in the state include new AI regulations; policies ensuring ease of access to state platforms; a collaborative approach to cybersecurity; and a new office dedicated to user-centric digital innovations.

Auckland Transport, New Zealand/Aotearoa: IM – Automating digital records management using AI from Auckland Transport

A video describing how Auckland Transport is using AI to automate appraisal, archiving and disposal of records, improving accessibility, transparency and legislative compliance.

Microsoft M365 Copilot: Videos of practical scenarios

The impact case videos demonstrate how M365 Copilot can enhance various situations, such as making meetings more efficient, increasing productivity, creating rapid business cases, modernising recruitment and optimising schedules.

Cambridge University: Pioneering AI project finds heat-loss houses 

The model is designed to help local authorities and other bodies make decisions about which houses to target when they are trying to reduce heat loss from buildings.

Technology for public good – beyond 2024

2024 will be a turning point in the necessary preparations, plans and infrastructure designs to exploit AI in the public sector. Looking beyond 2024, AI is one of the most exciting, transformative, and potentially challenging technology developments for the public sector, leading to enhanced decision-making, and improved ‘human-to-human’ interface in public services, especially in surfacing complex data relationships:

  1. Identifying
    Identifying risks and benefits of early interventions, and driving team and individual productivity, by linking and analysing complex data sets across systems, services and organisations. This includes complex business and service diagnostic capabilities.
  2. Automating
    Automating customer service journeys, connecting related services around individual needs, preferences and changing circumstances. Project processes will also be automated, especially as office/administration software will have AI capability pre-embedded.
  3. Analysing and demonstrating
    Analysing and demonstrating the wider effects of service decisions and risks. For example, connecting the impacts of decisions in measurable ways across domains (environment, health, social well-being, and economic factors). New governance and processes will be needed to exploit this capability.

Local public services typically operate in complex environments, managing sensitive situations and data, often related to vulnerable people with complex and diverse service needs. With relevant safeguards in place, these are all areas where AI can offer significant future value, with a new data insight, better risk management and joined up service delivery.

Examples include tracking the causes and impacts of pollution and waste, identifying people at risk and strategies to protect them better, health and well-being diagnostics leading to earlier interventions, at lower cost.

AI in the public sector from 2024 will enhance rather than replace human activity. Designing simpler processes, automating project and resource allocation, helping to determine interventions and investments, and providing ‘trigger alerts’ when risks or deviations from ‘the norm’ require further investigation all offer opportunities to for better targeting of resources, services and outcomes.

Over time this will lead to the development of entirely new public services that it would not be possible to deliver today. Already there are early examples of quantum computing using AI in health research, and ‘Natural Capital Accounting’ to identify the wider costs of human activity to replace short-term business cases, leading to a fundamental change in how public services operate.

Ultimately, AI has the potential to play a significant role across the whole spectrum of public services, becoming a partner rather than a de facto replacement.


2. Harnessing data

The importance of ‘data’ is not a new trend. However, the focus on harnessing data in 2024 will intensify, as the extreme pressures on public services finances continue to grow. More and more public service organisations will recognise the need to treat data as a critical resource to target resources, address financial shortfalls and manage rising demands and needs.

This recognition will encompass:

  • Data quality risks are magnified with the use of AI and automated analytics.
  • Data sharing across organisational boundaries depends on data quality, standards and matching.
  • Data errors or incorrect analysis leads to significant organisational liabilities, and potentially penalties.
  • Data is the key to greater productivity, efficiency, workflow optimisation, and risk control.
  • Data in public services is often relational – relating services, individuals and circumstances.
  • Data as a resource requires new skills in data science, and data analytics, more than data protection.

Notably, for many digital and technology trends found in this research, data is often the foundation stone that needs to be put in place as the key to success. It is also a reason why public service organisations need to ensure that have a senior level lead for data in their organisations, above and beyond a ‘data protection officer’.

Harnessing data – trend summary for 2024

Overview of the opportunity

  • Data is the key to using many emerging technologies, such as AI and also to driving improved internal productivity and overall efficiency in public services.
  • Data needs to be treated as one of the highest priorities in terms of skills, governance, and resourcing (data quality, protection, and use).

Risks and challenges

  • Data represents a huge challenge. Creating massive ‘data lake’ projects without specifying the clear path to benefits realisations is a big risk.
  • Data risks include bias, abuse, loss and misinterpretation. These will need to be mitigated with relevant training, plans and management.

Early benefits

  • Ensuring a strong policy for use of data, not only helps to mitigate cyber risk but is an essential preparatory step for adoption of new opportunities such as AI.
  • Creating flexibility and efficiency in reporting – performance data in particular.

Where to start

  • Data assets of the organisation need to be understood – quality, appropriateness, value, and cost.
  • Develop access to data skills and senior level responsibility for data across the whole organisation.
  • Focus on data quality and consistency in standards and use across application areas.

Application areas

  • Areas with the biggest data risk and business value. These may be in managing the growth of data from applications such as IoT and care systems or sorting out known data issues.
  • Focus on data quality can help to exploit the potential of data matching, including in areas such as cross-organisation, working and special data analysis.

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • If your organisation does not have board level responsibility for data, consider how this might be achieved, and what data governance is needed.
  • In particular, consider data outside the organisation on which services depend (e.g. knowing what data has transitioned to the cloud) and define a corporate and place-based data architecture accordingly.

Impact cases from around the world

Social Progress Imperative: The Social Progress Index

SPI draws together a wide range of datasets from different sources to better understand the root causes of inequalities and deprivation in order to redirect resources to support wellbeing, inclusion and better outcomes for people and communities.

Leeds City Council: Inclusive Growth Leeds

The tool helps measure how well Leeds is doing in terms of Inclusive Growth. It helps understand what’s happening in different areas of the city (ward based) by looking at multiple parts and offering us a clear and unbiased measure of overall wellbeing in the city.

London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD): Tackling food insecurity

The council wanted to tackle the problem of food insecurity, as well as its relationship with homelessness by developing a “Community Food Club”. By using the SPI scorecards, the council identified a ward with the highest potential demand and worked with local partners to establish the new service.

Digital Flanders: Data-driven, evidence-informed decision-making with and by citizens

Lieven Raes presents a citizen science approach to collecting and harnessing data to inform better and more targeted decision-making on air quality and mobility – Major Cities of Europe annual conference 2023.

Edinburgh City Council, Scotland: Our Smart City programme

The Smart City Operations Centre harnesses analytics to create useful data sets, such as pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle counts, as well as transport heatmaps. They are using these data sets to help better understand how people move through the city and interact with the built environment. This helps identify congestion, pinch points, desire lines, providing valuable information to support decision-making across the council.

Kyiv City Council, Ukraine: How data can save lives and Kyiv Digital app

Anatolii Vovniuk sets out the approach being taken by Kyiv City Council to harnessing data through its City Command and Control Centre and the Kyiv Digital app to protect its citizens from man-made and natural disasters, including air raids and power blackouts – Major Cities of Europe annual conference 2023.

Harnessing data – beyond 2024

During and beyond 2024, the public sector will gradually establish the priority for data within the organisation, beyond the IT department and the Data Protection Officer (DPO).

This will include a range of functions and practices:

Data maturity circle in the middle, surrounded by 4 boxes: Data policies, Data architecture, Risk and Exploitation

As data moves to become potentially the most critical resource in any organisation, ensuring its quality, standards and a consistent corporate data architecture are a basic starting position.

Many public sector organisations have more to do in this respect, and it is likely to be a task that will take more than 12 months in 2024 to achieve, given the need to adapt policies, governance, practices, behaviours, and many disparate data sets contained in proprietary applications.

In the longer term, the ability to link desperate data sets across organisations and systems will lead to new applications, such as natural accounting, that will allow decisions and actions to be based on a wider understanding of their implications and impact.

A growing market for data services will see the emergence and scaling-up of standardised approaches to curating, analysing, and interpreting data for deployment in ecosystems of local, place-based public services.


3. Cyber protection

Protecting the organisation from unauthorised access to data and systems and the potential for data loss or leakage, remain high on the list of priorities for CIOs in 2024.

Perimeter defence is no longer sufficient, particularly following the rapid deployment of remote devices during Covid and the exponential growth of IoT devices that are often unregulated, alongside up to date maintenance and patching of all system components. The task, in 2024, will be to keep pace with new threats and risks, such as AI, distributed cloud models and increasing use of IoT devices.

Re-testing IT disaster recovery with business continuity plans and controlling compliant processes for ‘on boarding new’ systems to tests for cyber weaknesses, is part of this.

“The ‘Protective Domain Name Service (PDNS) for Schools’ offer will benefit education settings across the UK, protecting them automatically from a huge volume of malicious content which can cause huge disruption, remediation time and costs to schools.”

Sarah Lyons, NCSC deputy director for economy and society

The challenge in 2024, especially for smaller public service organisations dependent on a wide range of different IT services and suppliers, is non-trivial, and it will be important not to neglect the priority of cyber protection in the absence of a cyber incident galvanising action.

There is also likely to be greater use of independent advice and external audits in 2024, in order to help organisations to address new and changing risk profiles objectively.

“I am delighted to see this direct and focused support to help improve and strengthen cyber resilience across the care sector in Wales.”

Reg Kilpatrick, director general Covid recovery and local government in the Welsh Government.

Cyber protection – trend summary

Overview of the opportunity

Cyber security is an opportunity, not just a risk, and that is how it should be positioned. Good cyber hygiene practices lead to lower costs, improved management of digital resources (data, systems, processes, workflows) and greater public trust in (and take up) of digital solutions.

Risks and challenges

The biggest overall risk is arguably to ‘keep pace’ with a range of new technologies, digital change and systems dependencies. Keeping pace requires investment in capacity and capability, as well as increasing the digital understanding and maturity within the organisation.

Early benefits

  • Getting cyber security ‘right’ removes significant barriers to modernisation and digital progress. It reassures staff, partners, suppliers and digital users that systems and data are safe and reliably available when required.
  • The modelling and scenario-testing of different threats can also help to identify wider risks or dependencies in digital service provision.

Where to start

  • Keeping pace requires constant reassessment of the threats and changing risks. Working with suppliers, local public service partners such as WARPs and ISACs will help.
  • Board level reporting of cyber risk in the context of services and partnerships will also help, especially if changing risks are corroborated through independent advice and audit.
  • Maintaining a strong policy framework for cyber practices and associated board level reporting is a key starting point.

Application areas

  • There is a wide selection of tools to assist with cyber protection, but the main application areas continue to be focused on people: staff, partners and systems users – vigilance is essential.
  • Additionally, there needs to be early consideration of changing risks from new technologies such as AI and new cloud-based platforms.

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • CIOs must protect applications and network infrastructure from unauthorised access, while also ensuring that cyber resilience is seen in a broader context in the organisation – e.g. the link between IT disaster recovery, business continuity planning, emergency response and digital service dependencies in wider civic resilience.
  • Involvement and leadership of the Executive Board and (in government bodies) politicians is essential – in 2024 the topic cannot be left to IT. CIOs have a role in making this happen and in ensuring business-led cyber reporting.

Impact cases from around the world

National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC): Cyber security service for schools

The Protective Domain Name Service (PDNS), which is already in place for other parts of the public sector, is designed to help prevent cyber-attacks on schools.

The Cyber Resilience Centre for Wales (WCRC) and Welsh Government: Welsh social care sector gets free cyber security training

The Cyber Ninjas training scheme – which is being rolled out by the WCRC and delivered by Matobo Learning through its platform – provides funding for 2,500 social care training licences in cyber security.

Guidance



National Cyber Strategy 2022

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT)

This document covers key elements of cyber security from implementation to building a resilient and prosperous digital UK. 



Secure Connected Places: Cyber Security Playbook

The Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT)

A new resource offering practical and accessible support to improve the cyber security of their connected places, or ‘smart cities’, across the UK.
National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).



Connected Places Cyber Security Principles

National Cyber Security Centre

This guidance recommends a set of cyber security principles that will help ensure the security of a connected place and its underlying infrastructure, so that it is both more resilient to cyber-attack and easier to manage. 



Building a cyber resilient service: A guide for directors of children’s services

Local Government Association (LGA)

Support for directors and their senior team to develop proactive, protective strategies and capabilities to enhance the cyber resilience of their service; some recommendations are technical, some organisational and some are about your people.

Cyber protection – beyond 2024

As cyber management becomes more sophisticated and far-reaching, it will be important for public services to consider how the enhanced risk is best managed. An ongoing concern regarding cyber risk will remain the misuse of data, disrupted access to data and the loss of critical or sensitive information. But it will increasingly lie in the response of partners too.

Combating this requires an approach that includes using internal and external reviewers, with IT and non-IT responsibilities, and across linked organisations (such as health and social care), if not already in place. Cyber compliance and threat protection services, increasingly enabled by AI, will become more commonplace, but their deployment should not be at the expense of linked organisations taking responsibility for cyber protection.

A joined-up approach to cyber resilience within and between public service organisations, will help to ensure a collective contribution from public services to wider civic community protection:

Cyber protection layers graph - circular graph with circular layers like a dart board.

From inside to the outside, in order:
Central controls and ITDR
Data security and management
Applications and internal systems
Endpoint and device security
Access controls and ID
Cloud and distributed infrastructure
Apps and distributed systems
Staff and partners

4. Geospatial technologies

It is debatable whether this theme is a ‘digital’ or a ‘technology’ trend, but for this 2024 report we added it to ‘technology’ because it comprises some key technologies utilising data related to place and space.

Over recent years our reports have assessed the opportunities of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), gaming technologies and ‘digital twins’. All of these technologies continue to gain ground with an increasing number of applications in public services.

“Our Earth Observation pilot is aiming to keep the UK in its high geospatial orbit, increasing public sector capability and the demand for market innovation through testing new applications of EO data and technologies.”

Thalia Baldwin, director, Geospatial Commission

Rapidly reducing costs of satellite and drone technologies are opening up new possibilities for collecting and using geospatial data to address hitherto unsolvable problems. When connected to geographic information systems (GIS), IoT data, artificial intelligence (AI), and global positions systems (GPS), these ‘spatial reality’ tools can use data and information in new ways to solve problems:

Applied spatial technologies:

  1. Connected places data analysis
    The move beyond ‘smart cities’ towards whole system working and ‘connected places’, whether rural or urban, is a major shift for public service design in 2024 and beyond, connecting data and services in new ways around citizen needs
  2. AR, VR and ‘digital twins’
    Augmented reality, virtual reality and the ability to use ‘digital twin’ modelling to test virtual services and scenarios before designs are finalised has become a powerful tool for public services
  3. Virtual services in virtual places
    There is much talk about ‘virtual hospitals’, but all services can increasingly be designed in new ways that do not rely on geography or traditional service boundaries
  4. Tracking and connecting resources
    Assets and resources are increasingly diverse and connected – utilities, buildings, equipment, sensors, street furniture and more

With a growing demand for location-based intelligence systems and availability of data, the deployment of geospatial technologies will be a growing priority for 2024.

“We are delighted to be working with the Geospatial Commission on this initiative and we look forward to seeing how public sector bodies will work with our satellite data to support the delivery of critical public services.”

Paul Russell, head of intelligence UK, Airbus

Geospatial technologies – trend summary

Overview of the opportunity

  • Understanding opportunities, such as infrastructure and asset tracking, service modelling and virtual service design can help to optimise a wide variety of public services, as well as well as exposing and managing connectivity vulnerabilities and barriers.
  • Using the idea of special technologies, offers new ways of viewing, delivering and managing services, with more insightful place-based metrics.

Risks and challenges

  • This remains a relatively new area for public service, despite much experience in the use of geographic information systems.
  • Risks with this developing area lie more with the data quality and interpretation than the technology itself so improving skills and awareness of data management will help greatly.
  • Sharing data insights and best practice publicly will help to mitigate the risks for others embarking on this area.

Early benefits

Early benefits will lie in being able to understand data insights and their benefits in a range of planning areas – civic space planning, infrastructure risks, and testing different virtual scenarios of new service designs.

Where to start

  • Understanding the possibilities is a good place to start, linking the topic to short, medium and longer-term value planning. For example, using VR and AR to help with planning of virtual services and spaces, and geospatial data to help map community assets.
  • Pick specific application areas that will deliver tangible benefit in the short term, whilst building a picture of long-term possibilities.

Application areas

  • Harnessing geospatial technologies and data presents possibilities in a growing number of areas for local governments. 2024 is the time to start identifying the priority areas that align to business priorities.
  • Examples include monitoring and managing pollution, infrastructure services and public assets, and in the way physical and virtual services can be redesigned.
  • There is good evidence available to demonstrate how the use of address and street data in particular can generate significant return on investment for public bodies

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • CIOs need to prioritise this topic and consider the potential in the context of the business and digital strategies. This includes making the connections between individual technologies such as VR, AR, AI, IoT, and methods such as digital twins.
  • Evaluating how this theme or the component technologies could impact existing digital and IT strategies in 2024, should start conversations with service and digital leaders about the possibilities.

Impact cases from around the world

GeoPlace: Nottingham City Council predicts impressive 6:1 ROI on use of address and street data

Nottingham City Council is seeing impressive returns from its investment in geocoded address and street data, and the use of that data across the organisation. Results of an in-depth study show the council generated an estimated Return on Investment (ROI) of over 4:1 between 2018 and 2022.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT):UK to pilot use of innovative EO technology for public services

The Geospatial Commission pilot will see public sector bodies able to access and test high resolution Earth Observation (EO) data and services.

Major Cities of Europe: How technology can help manage climate change

This presentation by Dr Alan Shark to Major Cities of Europe’s annual conference (2023) sets out how technologies such as VR, AI, visualized data and advanced data capture can help to mitigate and manage the impacts of climate change.

The Association for Geographic Information: Deeper Understanding of Customer and Neighbourhood

They undertook a range of analyses and produced a series of thematic maps, an overall “index of vitality” to help advise on areas that had potential for development or better neighbourhood development.

Geospatial technologies – beyond 2024

This area of digital development, however it is described and named, will continue to grow as an exciting area of innovation, powered by increasing amounts of location-based data, above and below ground, which can be used to reconfigure and even invent new services, to better meet the needs of people and the communities where they live and work.

The challenge in public service application will be to retain public trust in these increasingly personalised, localised, sophisticated and portable digital services, and how the influence of the big tech is harnessed and controlled.

5. Infrastructure and cloud

IT infrastructure will have a higher focus for CIOs in 2024, as it comes under increasing pressure to cope with new volumes and demands for flexibility and resilience.  In many public service organisations, and in the wider communities, where they work, there will be a need to reassess infrastructure, needs and capability in 2024:

  1. Interoperability requirements across systems, organisations, cloud platforms, and data sets are requiring a reassessment of the flexibility, standards, and structures for distributed infrastructure. Modern IT infrastructures are distributed, complex and depend on new tools to offer security and performance across distributed cloud networks.
  2. In many organisations investment levels in IT infrastructure have not kept pace with demand and digital developments. It can be hard to persuade business leaders of the need to invest until something goes wrong, whilst infrastructure costs are increasing.
  3. Well-designed infrastructure is the basis for managing a complex patchwork of data sets across different cloud and internal systems. Increased complexity, with a growth in apps, systems and new technologies, such as AI and IoT, require a reassessment to ensure coherence and consistency for compliance and reporting.
  4. IT infrastructure architecture design is the key to simplified, flexible and secure access to an increasingly complex mix of data and systems. The demands for increasing flexibility to enable new styles of working, and security in the face of growing cyber threats, requires continued focus. A key requirement is ubiquitous wi-fi, mobile and broadband access for all, not just focusing on 5G and beyond.
  5. As many IT suppliers offer a cloud-only service, it is essential that public sector IT infrastructure can embrace this, without compromising compliance, security, or data controls. At the same time, organisations need to be able to retain in-house services where they choose, particularly to control cost and maximise value.
  6. The growth of digital services, and the dependence on these, coupled with the explosion of data and information from new technologies, is driving unprecedented levels of data processing, straining existing IT infrastructure to its limits. Often a complete reconfiguration is required, not just upgrading infrastructure capacity.
  7. New technologies are available to optimise IT infrastructure, such as MPLS networks, delivering a level of observability of IT performance, opportunities for cost savings and risk mitigation that might otherwise be hidden. Increasingly complex, distributed, dynamic, intelligent and self-managing infrastructure services typically require reconfiguration and modernisation of traditional IT infrastructure.

Over the last few years, the use of cloud computing and its potential to transform public sector IT infrastructure has changed significantly. In 2024 the debate will move beyond whether or not cloud is a safe way of processing data and hosting systems in the public sector as it is now an integral part of all technology architectures.

Many CIOs will be reviewing their chosen cloud services during 2024 to fit with changing infrastructure needs and to contain costs. This is driven by post-Covid working practices (anywhere, anytime, any device), software suppliers moving to a ‘cloud only’ delivery model and by the use of new ‘heavy-duty’ processing applications, such as generative AI, which cannot be run in traditional ways.

Public sector CIOs report not only that they are migrating to primarily cloud-based infrastructures, but the way they do so is governed by issues such as cost, resilience, and data control as much as cyber security.

“Effective management of our asset portfolios is a priority for the council; access to accurate and reliable data will enable us to make evidence-based decisions and is essential to successfully deliver our objectives. Civica’s cloud platform will support our dynamic nature and provide a truly flexible and adaptable solution.”

Cllr Tony Costigan, East Hampshire’s portfolio holder of property.

In 2024, CIOs will need to ensure a degree of control of hybrid and distributed (shadow) IT, since this can create huge hidden costs, risks, and inflexibilities for the future. In particular, public service organisations need to control devolved authority to buy new systems that do not comply with governance, data standards, security requirements, or deliver wider corporate value. Strong internal policies that control the choice of solutions and how they are used, including cloud-based systems will be important in 2024.

Cloud considerations for 2024

  1. Data security
    How are cyber practices and incidents reported (including near misses)? What tests are carried out and how frequently? Are staff cyber-trained and will they comply with the expectations of the client for high levels of data probity (e.g., ‘cyber essentials+’). The same time, avoid being locked into portrait, proprietary cloud, data models.
  2. Cost and value
    Has the total cost of ownership of the cloud service been considered, including indirect costs? Does the contract restrict the supplier from hiking up service charges? Are there hidden costs or constraints such as data migration? How is this measure and reported on a regular basis by the supplier?
  3. Data controls
    Does the platform, the supply chain and supplier practices exhibit the necessary controls and protections reflecting the nature of the service and the data held? How are data controls checked and reported.
  4. Observability and audit
    Are there limits on how the client can review performance and data management practices of the supplier? How will audits be undertaken (as if it were an ‘on-premise’ IT function)? Can the totality of IT infrastructure and data use be understood, or has it become invisibly fragmented?
  5. Service risk
    How does the hosted service link to other services, systems and data stores within the organization? How are these interdependencies managed? How have business continuity plans been aligned and tested? What IT disaster recovery plans are in place?
  6. Contract fexibility
    How much flexibility is there in the contract – growth or increases, adding systems or partners, exit clauses, performance improvements? It is important that a growing range of cloud contracts for public bodies can easily be managed as whole, with consistency of practice and expectations.
  7. Infrastructure compliance
    Does the infrastructure, design comply with the clients’ standards, practices and the regulatory framework within which it needs to operate? Does it compromise any part of data architecture, access controls or networking protocols supporting wider mobile flexible working?

Infrastructure and cloud – trend summary

Overview of the opportunity

IT Infrastructure can sometimes be taken for granted in public service organisations outside IT. It’s something “under the bonnet” or “in the data centre”. The opportunity in 2024 is to explain the unique and critical connection between IT infrastructure and the delivery of front line digital public services.

Risks and challenges

  • The dependency on infrastructure, its resilience, as well as its flexibility, is becoming a significant risk and challenge for public service organisations.
  • IT disaster recovery with business continuity plans should be tested every year against a variety of different scenarios. The key dependencies on IT infrastructure and potential vulnerabilities need to be visible at Board level.

Early benefits

Effective management of IT infrastructure to ensure its resilience, performance, security, and adaptability, will be a key enabler of some of the digital trends described in the report. Without this, it can undoubtedly become a significant barrier to progress in 2024.

Where to start

  • IT estate and infrastructure need to be clearly documented, including the inter-dependencies, in order to understand and to manage risk.
  • Planning ahead is key – capacity planning, and the linking of digital plans to the IT infrastructure implications.

Application areas

  • Fibre to the home, easy to access and secure wifi in public places, and strong mobile network coverage everywhere are as important as 5G projects.
  • Reviewing existing cloud applications, foundations (policies, supplier criteria, data requirements, compliance) and data dependencies to identify opportunities for optimisation, efficiency, or resilience improvements.

Advice for CIOs and digital leaders

  • Ensure your IT infrastructure is well-documented, and that it is controlled, whether or not provision is internal or external.
  • Ensure also that infrastructure development plans are signed off at board level and planned in advance, anticipating likely upgrades, costs, changes, disruption and the value that infrastructure investment can bring to wider digital opportunity.

Impact cases from around the world

East Hampshire District Council: East Hampshire Council plans new cloud deployment

The council is preparing to move the management of its property, estates, and asset information onto a single cloud platform.

The Icelandic Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs: Digital Iceland

An ambitious initiative to accelerate the digital transformation of public services in Iceland in 2019. The overall goal was to streamline the way citizens and businesses access government services by creating more efficient, effective, and user-centric digital services and infrastructure.

Infrastructure and cloud – beyond 2024

This theme will continue to grow in importance beyond 2024 to encompass support for an increasingly complex inter-connected array of data sets, systems, cloud platforms and networks. This will include intelligent and self-managed infrastructure solutions, as well as dynamic infrastructure that manages a distributed network of technology resources within and beyond the organisation.

Some of this ‘infrastructure as a service’ (IaaS) will be driven by cost and the practicalities of demands on IT. But much will also be driven by data: the need for flexible and connected data access across multiple physical domains connecting the interests of individuals and their communities.

This means that in 2024 organisations must ensure that they have a proper grip on IT infrastructure planning and management, not just relying on the marketplace to deliver whatever is necessary to support their commissioned service offerings.

Local public services need to work together to ensure resilient, secure, and ubiquitous access to sufficient infrastructure capability and capacity to support digitally connected places. In some countries and in many cities, this is already well advanced. But in other places, and in many rural areas, the focus on urban development (and new technologies such as 5G and 6G) has left some communities behind.

Relevant Socitm resources