For digital leaders and CIOs in public service organisations, 2024 will be exciting but also challenging. In a post-Covid world, with the emergence of a range of new and rapidly maturing technologies, changing public expectations and a desire to redefine public services to optimise digital operation, our research reveals an unprecedented ‘pantheon of possibilities’.
In 2024, public services will become primarily digital in everything they do:
- AI will start to underpin re-imagined services and revolutionary data use.
- Services will join together in new ways in connected places, enhancing not necessarily replacing face-to-face delivery.
This fundamental shift will demand political and executive leadership, with sufficient IT investment astutely prioritised to ensure resilient infrastructure and systems.
In addition to starting to harness new technologies such as AI, a review of our past trends reveals clear messages for public service leaders planning ahead for 2024:
- Trends often take longer to mature and to adopt than the pundits predict.
- Events can disrupt plans, so adaptability is essential – pandemics, conflicts, political changes (such as Brexit in the UK) and economic downturn all impact digital prioritisation and planning.
A volatile climate can make it hard to align digital and IT plans with organisational priorities, making it even more important to resist IT projects that simply follow fashion or seductive marketing. In 2024 investing in digital and technology foundations (skills, capacity, infrastructure, and data) will be a priority. Infrastructure and cloud models in particular will feature strongly in 2024, with distributed service platforms, edge computing, and mesh networks being used to build infrastructure capacity and foundations that keep pace with digital demands.
Multiple year spans
Our research finds, not surprisingly, that trends often span multiple years, with priorities such as cybersecurity and data management persisting high on the list of trends for 2024. While CIOs focus on cyber protection in the face of a growing sophistication of threats, our research has also found that digital leaders in 2024 are increasingly considering community resilience; protecting communities from a growing range of digital risks that includes supply chains, wider infrastructures, business continuity plans and the needs of vulnerable individuals.
The new ‘stand-out’ technology trend for 2024 is artificial intelligence (AI). Indeed, 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. Early AI adopters in the public sector will be experimenting with AI in a variety of application areas. However, adoption may not be quite as fast as some expect, due to the need to spend time establishing the basics: policies, compliance, skills, risk control and ‘data readiness’.
Another strong trend for 2024 is the emergence and growth of geospatial technologies. These include technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), employing geospatial data capabilities, coupled with applications such as ‘digital twins’. By bringing together these technologies, data and digital applications, public bodies are beginning to design ‘virtual services’ that connect digital resources in more joined up ways.
Creating an ‘extended reality’ (XR) or immersive experience will take time to develop and depends heavily on data readiness. But it offers public services new ways of engaging with citizens, testing the design of services, tracking risks and performance, and driving out costs.
The potential for connecting technologies together creates opportunity to redesign public services based on new digital foundations. We have identified ‘reimagining services’, rather than simply applying new technology to existing service models, as a growing theme for 2024. Examples of the technologies being linked include low-code, mobile devices, IoT, AI and ‘geospatial technologies’.
A decade of cuts
In some countries, such as the UK, a decade of cuts to public services, coupled with economic downturn, have resulted in the failure or serious degeneration of many public services. As we have seen during the Covid pandemic, a faster migration to digital operation is a central response to challenges such as these, especially as there is now a greater public willingness to use digital services.
This means that public services will need to reconsider their very purpose and to adjust governance, risk modelling, resource allocation and the nature of local public service partnerships, a trend that will continue for some years to come.
Measuring cost and value
Measuring the cost of technology is relatively straightforward, but measuring the value of digital investment is more complex. There are strong indications that ‘value’ is where public service organisations will be focused in considering technology investments in 2024. This is one reason why we continue to recommend that public services should ensure that ‘technology leadership’ and ‘digital leadership’ work in a tight, collaborative fashion. Where they are combined in one role, the distinction is still important.
Digital and IT skills
We have found that building digital and IT skills and capacity is a major obstacle for public service organisations planning digital developments. 2024 will bring increasing competition for digital and IT talent in the market and difficulties for the public sector in competing on pay alone with the private sector. This is particularly problematic in areas such as cyber, data science and digital transformation. We present some of the imaginative and innovative ways that public service organisations will be approaching the recruitment and retention of digital and IT capability in 2024.
IT for public good
Public services are also likely to be at the heart of setting an example of good practice in ‘IT for public good’. 2024 will see increasing expectations placed on public bodies to set the standards in mitigating technology’s potential downsides and maximising its positive effects. This includes how data (such as avoiding bias, abuse and data compromise) and IT put to use in tackling some of the most complex challenges facing modern societies. 2024 will see significant investment in digital and IT solutions that help with environmental monitoring, economic regeneration, social cohesion, equality and the protection of democracy.
Overall, our analysis looking ahead to 2024 shows that in ‘connected places’ public services increasingly will work together, sharing systems and data to help build ‘whole system’ responses to citizen’s needs. This requires local and national governments to work together, which can be difficult and complex, since it challenges traditional models of delivery as well as the demarcation of responsibility and the allocation of resources. Whether some public services are mature enough, politically or in terms of governance, is an issue for 2024, and we identify changes to ‘local and national leadership’ as a key digital trend to watch.
CIOs report that the culture, policies, governance and risk management in their public service organisations should be a top focus for 2024, helping them to prioritise the right IT investments. Delivering IT services well is essential but is not enough to avoid digital transformation projects falling short of expectations in the coming year.
Our key findings and likely digital and technology trends for 2024 for public bodies are set out in an infographic. Inevitably, the interpretation of this needs to be unique to each organisation – no public body is in the same place in terms of digital or IT maturity. Risk appetite and service priorities will differ and so will their digital response.
We expect 2024 to be a defining moment in the definition of digital public services looking towards the end of the decade, combining the potential of technology with the unprecedented demand for redefined public sector purpose and models, building for the future, not just for the year ahead.
This report was produced in partnership with:
LOLA is a non-profit organisation of ICT professional associations. These associations comprise professionals who work in local authority and other local public service delivery organisations, and their suppliers, in different countries worldwide.
Major Cities of Europe (MCE)
MCE is a European independent organisation of local government CIOs, heads of departments and policy makers. They co-operate with academia, public and private organisations focused in that domain.