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Public sector digital trends 2024 collection | Article

Trend analysis: previous years

Making predictions is always a tricky business – ‘guess correctly three times in a row, and you can be considered an expert’, or so they say. But equally, circumstances often conspire to derail what might seem to be otherwise clearly defined and foreseeable trends. 

This year we take a look at our success in accurately identifying trends in our last five years of reports (from 2019): 

  • What trends have persisted, and which are new or changing? 
  • What have the fundamental drivers been (such as Covid)? 
  • What did we get right, and why? 

It is clear that whilst we did get most things right, there was over-optimism in the pace at which new technologies would be taken up, and also different public service organisations inevitably have different sets of priorities and challenges, impacting the pace of adoption. Those organisational differences relate to factors such as local geography, demography, available resources, appetite for risk, differing politics, leadership style, and capability. 

There are two clear lessons to be learned from this for organisations using our research in their own planning: 

  1. Events get in the way and local priorities vary, so care and judgement are needed in how our digital trends apply in your organisation, to reflect local circumstances. 
  1. Consider and learn from your organisation’s journey and strategic plans: Learning from where your plans required adjustment will allow you to build in greater flexibility or realism in the future. 

Whilst our analysis shows that whilst much is changed in IT and digital capability in public services over the last five years, there is also evidence to show that most IT trends and digital practices persist year on year, taking time to develop and to mature. 

The factors that have impacted the overall pace of digital and technology change from our analysis of the past five years have been:  

  • The rate of IT and digital innovation in industry in general and in public service settings, showing what is possible, and helping to overcome inertia. 
  • The impact of events, such as Covid, which demand faster implementation of change and take-up of digital practices and changing public expectations.  
  • Changes in economic conditions, affecting supply chains, resources, skills retention and recruitment. 
  • Significant increases in cyber risks as the dependency of digital methods services grows, requiring a mix of technical, cultural and behavioural practices to keep pace. 
  • A gradual move toward ‘whole system working’, requiring greater maturity in sharing data and systems, integrated policies and joined up and digital delivery.  

Our digital trends assessments were mostly accurate, but inevitably impacted by unforeseen external events, such as Covid. 

Our technology trends assessments correctly identified where adoption of new technology was likely to take longer than industry pundits and suppliers often expected (or hoped).  

Year-by-year assessments 

This ‘year by year’ assessment of our digital trends reports for the last five years highlights some of the key findings that proved to be accurate, and those that we did not foresee. 

2019 predictions

We predicted that 2019 would be about early adoption of some of the new emerging technologies to support greater automation, along with maturing of digital transformation planning. We also expected a strong focus on modernisation of legacy IT and increasing concern about the growing importance of cyber resilience. 

What we got right (highlights): 

  • A definition of the changing role of IT and technology supply models in public organisations, with updates of outdated IT strategies, stronger digital planning, and higher prioritisation of cyber. 
  • Emergence of data analytics and the increasing importance of ‘data’ as strategic priorities beyond IT management. 
  • The growth of low-code/no-code as a fast and low cost way of building citizen centric applications. 

What we got wrong (highlights): 

  • We expected to see a faster adoption of partnership working and local shared services than proved to be the case. This remains politically challenging even in 2024, despite the clear business advantages. 
  • We correctly identified the emergence of virtual and augmented reality, along with artificial intelligence, but the pace of their adoption was much slower in practice than we expected. 

2020 predictions

The 2020 digital trends report was published just before Covid struck. That was an unavoidable major oversight. We predicted a strong and growing focus on technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and 5G, and we expected greater adoption of digital transformation as a mechanism for exploiting greater value as resources became increasingly constrained. 

What we got right: 

  • We accurately predicted a trend of changing workstyles (although not the extent to which Covid would impact working practices) 
  • The technology trends we identified (e.g., AI, IoT and 5G) becoming increasingly mainstream, including a growth in home and mobile working. 
  • We also spotted the emergence of new models of cross-sector working which were in practice magnified by Covid lockdown. 

What we got wrong: 

  • We did not foresee the impact Covid would have, skewing priorities towards connectivity, video conferencing and prioritisation of remote access to services. 
  • Perhaps the biggest impact of Covid was the massive move towards accepting digital delivery within public services and by citizens – much faster than we could have foreseen. 

2021 predictions

Still in the Covid period, and feeling its effects on digital adoption, we predicted a strong focus on digital leadership and the need to redefine digital services around people, with less focus on IT catalysts in their own right. In particular we anticipated a shift towards digital and data at the heart of service planning, and new working patterns becoming a staff well-being requirement. 

What we got right: 

  • We foresaw the need to consolidate IT change after the response needed for Covid, particularly addressing exposed risks from the rapid adoption of digital services. 
  • We correctly tracked the trend towards the importance of data – noting how crucial shared and integrated data had been in response to the pandemic. 
  • We also spotted the need to proportionately increase IT budgets – whilst reflecting that this would still be tough on IT leaders making business cases for investment. 

What we got wrong: 

  • We wrongly predicted a fundamental shift occurring this year towards localism and urban redesign – an opportunity flowing naturally from the impact of Covid. In practice this has proved to be a ‘slower burn’ in some countries such as the UK, where there is a reluctance to change in some services. 
  • We also expected to see a more rapid shift towards new supply models than proved to be the case – although this is a continuing trend; it is taking time to mature as contracts come up for renewal. 

2022 predictions

We saw 2022 as the year of significant change in service modelling in favour of digital delivery, building on the successful response to Covid. This included resetting risk models in favour of digital delivery, with a wider acceptance of online-only services. Our expectation was a surge in digital ‘pace and reach’ in the public sector, with designs that empower people, not depersonalise, or disenfranchise. 

What we got right: 

  • We correctly predicted the growth in collaborative networks, and in prioritised development of personalised digital services. 
  • The need for better cyber resilience planning for communities, not just in public services or systems 
  • The need for a data strategy in organisations to control AI and IoT developments and to avoid a patchwork of incoherent digital systems and services. 

What we got wrong: 

  • We did not anticipate the wider impact of economic downturn on the public sector and the tightening of finances resulting from international conflict and energy costs rises. These put a break on some projects and demanded higher return on investment with a tightening of finances. 
  • We also expected the emergence of a common inclusive ‘trust framework’ across public services, providing a platform for interoperability of digital identity solutions. This has proved more challenging in many countries, including the UK, and this has held back some digital public services. 

2023 predictions

In last year’s report, we were correct in seeing a growing expectation of ‘digital’ to mitigate the impact and the growing problems facing public sector leaders: austerity, global economic conditions, growing public expectations, the cost of living crisis, the need for integrated services across traditional boundaries, climate change, and recruitment and retention challenges with changed workforce expectations. 

What we got right: 

  • We foresaw the growing prioritisation of ‘channel blending’ – the critical role of connecting services and providing easy to use online services to reduce inequalities. 
  • A nuanced approach to the challenge of legacy IT – not everything has to be replaced and there are alternative strategies that can be deployed to mitigate the constraints of older technologies. 
  • The fundamental role of data integration to break away from the limitations imposed by service silos, and the growth of data science as an important professional discipline. 

What we got wrong: 

  • We expected digital health services to set the pace and example for digital services for citizens, partly because of the potential of technology, and partly because of the ubiquitous nature of health services. In practice, this is taking longer than we thought, and may still be some years away from becoming a reality. 
  • It is, perhaps too early to tell, but the pace of data governance maturity, the adoption of personal data vaults and integration of data across organisational boundaries appears to be taking longer than we had thought (or hoped). 

We have put together a table detailing each technology and digital trend and the priority change over time that they experienced between 2019 and 2024. You can download that table in an Excel format (read only) below.

  Public sector trends: a comprehensive review of previous reports   download icon

2019-2024 trends priority change over time. Excel document (read-only)