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Why technology is key to improving public sector agility

Satpal Biant, Head of Public Sector - SAP UK&I

While the public sector has been undergoing digital reforms for a while, it’s no surprise that the pandemic caused several years of digital transformation in just a few weeks. The industry needed to adjust to a new remote reality at pace, but for many organisations this has proven difficult.

Public sector organisations will continually need to adapt their operations in line with a fast-changing socioeconomic landscape and rising citizen expectations. So how can they manage this? It comes down to the way they operate. Most public sector organisations have, traditionally, deployed a static operating structure, with fixed, siloed teams and a lack of end-to-end digital capabilities and real insights into their current business processes. This creates significant difficulties when having to adapt to changes in the marketplace – such as disruptions to global supply chains, rising levels of inflation and the ‘Great Resignation’ – alongside an increased demand for services.

Transforming current operating models to a more agile one – where organisations adopt the right attributes and characteristics that enable them to react and respond to change – is key for enabling these organisations to keep up with new innovations and serve citizens better. But moving from a static entity to an agile and dynamic one is one of the biggest challenges facing well-established, traditional organisations in the public sector. So how can they address this and drive a culture of continuous improvement? Taking advantage of new technology is key to helping them become more proactive, automated, data-driven and citizen-focused in the long-term.

Defining organisational agility
What does it mean to be an ‘agile organisation’, and what new practices do organisations need to adopt internally in order to actually become one? First popularised by IT companies, the agile way of working puts an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration and an interactive test-and-learn approach to delivering products and services.

One key practice is breaking down organisational silos by incorporating fluid and dynamic team structures that encourage the sharing of knowledge and information across the organisation. Working collaboratively allows employees to make full use of their skills, knowledge and expertise to enable iterative and focused improvements to the services they deliver. This, in turn, improves the speed of decision making and creates a culture of continuous learning across the organisation.

Agile organisations are also defined by their ability to understand the long-term needs and demands of citizens, and incorporate this into improvements to service delivery. They’re also more flexible in their adoption of new technological innovations that are critical for providing tailored and timely services to all stakeholders. So how can government agencies reap the transformative benefits of an agile operating model?

To begin with, government organisations need to truly understand their current end-to-end business processes in order to enable breaking down of organisational silos, facilitating collaboration and employee stakeholder buy-in to the change. This is done by ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ them how their role and their impact in the organisation is going to change. Having access to the right technology can fundamentally help the public sector drive cultural change and deliver on the outcomes an agile organisation can achieve.

Putting the citizen first
While citizen expectations of public sector services have increased in the past couple of years, socioeconomic pressures, including an escalating cost of living crisis and rising levels of inflation, mean that public sector organisations are now facing unprecedented demand for their services. It’s therefore vital that public sector organisations prioritise investing in the areas that not only improve the delivery of services, but enable them to meet these ever-changing expectations in the long-term. This means that taking into account the needs and demands of citizens when streamlining and modernising operations and business processes, and incorporating citizen feedback into the decision-making process, is key.

Collecting sentiment data from citizens on their experiences with public sector services and then creating a unified customer data platform to store information will enable public sector organisations to build a single, coherent profile of respondents. Combining this data with business process intelligence data allows government organisations to not only identify which areas of the service need improving, but incorporate citizen feedback into service delivery. Through business process simulation an organisation can implement the change management with employees straight away, before making any technical changes to business systems and applications, thereby reducing cost and risk of a successful transformation.

For example, Christchurch City Council adopted key technology in 2018 that allowed it to effectively visualise constituent service requests, allowing the organisation to develop a better understanding of citizen needs. By doing so, the council has been able to make decisions with the citizen at the heart, allowing it to effectively serve constituents in the years ahead affected by the pandemic.

Empowering a diverse and distributed workforce
Teams in government organisations are often forced to contend with bureaucratic hurdles and controls that complicate even simple tasks and decisions. They frequently work in silos, and collaboration between departments can be challenging at best. So, for an agile methodology to be deployed successfully, a more dynamic team structure needs to be put in place that encourages cross-functional collaboration.

Deploying technologies like cloud computing, business process intelligence and experience management platforms that standardise human resource services into one centralised, secure platform will help public sector organisations to automate repetitive organisational processes, including talent acquisition, payroll and time management. In turn, this allows leaders to invest more time in prioritising the tasks that improve their organisational agility, such as reskilling new and existing talent. In doing so, public sector organisations will build and create increasingly dynamic, multi-disciplinary and cross-functional teams equipped with a wide range of skills, knowledge and perspectives. This is key in helping teams feel empowered to make the best decisions in the moment, with the citizen at the centre.

Transitioning to a more agile operating model is vital to the public sector’s ability to adapt and become more resilient to change. From deploying cloud computing through to unified customer data platforms, leveraging the right technology will enable public sector organisations to become more responsive, resilient and adaptable to change for years to come.

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