Predictions 2019: Public Sector

Digital transformation poses major challenges for public administrations, cities and communities, but it also offers many opportunities to optimize internal processes, save costs and most importantly offer new services to citizens. Tim Moody, CTO UK&I Public Sector looks into what is on the horizon in 2019 for the public sector

1. Customer experience

Once we were just happy to hear back from the authorities when we submitted a claim or needed an official document. Digital services in many countries are now prevalent and in 2019 they will be increasingly accessible through mobile devices as well, for example in Spain the Tax and Social Affairs Agency now provides numerous services that can be managed on a mobile phone. Indeed, citizens are now assessing their experience of public sector digital services through the lens of their consumer expectations. Clunky processes and difficult-to-use front ends are no longer acceptable and governments need to think and act much more like consumer goods or services organizations. We expect artificial intelligence used in virtual assistants to start to close the usability gap between digital services and how citizens actually want to use them in 2019. Another approach being taken by a number of European governments is to organize services around citizens’ “life events” so that digital access reflects how people perceive their own lives – rather than reflecting departmental silos. However, this has consequences for the cross-departmental sharing of data…

2. Business Priorities

As ever, there will be enormous pressure on budgets, with some hard decisions to be made about spending priorities in 2019. We expect the focus for additional investment to be driven by the political context, with defense, homeland security, health, social services and eco-transport infrastructures (electric cars) gaining ground over other areas of spending.

3. Transition to the cloud

In 2019, public cloud adoption in the public sector will lag even further behind that of the private sector, although this masks large disparities between regional and local governments, as well as between small countries and national or federal agencies in big countries, where legacy system investment will continue due to the complexity of change management. This implies that the use of on-premise private cloud will grow where the change management issues are greatest – in national and federal agencies in the larger EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK) – whereas smaller, more agile countries such as Estonia, Finland and Malta will be less inhibited about adopting public cloud.

Governments in these larger countries seeking digital transformation will start to accept that a blanket public cloud policy is not deliverable and acknowledge the need for a hybrid approach and longer transition timetables. This is being driven by increasing complexity, risk of delays and even project failure in certain cases. Many UK government departments, for example, started by moving to public cloud but are now experiencing the challenges of managing multiple clouds and traditional infrastructure – all in parallel. This is made worse by a lack of funding for large-scale application transformation, which lies at the very heart of what they need to achieve to meet their goals. While the desire is there to change these applications, this is a journey from rhetoric to realism, vision to viability.

4. Blockchain

2018 saw blockchain – and associated capabilities such as smart contracts – discussed as the solution to all sorts of problems across nearly every industry sector. Public Sector is no different, with use cases including healthcare, citizen identity, trade flow and even food provenance all likely candidates. While we have seen governments take part in some early trials, we expect blockchain to be one element used to underpin emerging government partnerships and ecosystems where services will be delivered across both public and private sector organizations.

5. Joined-up digital government and data privacy

In the more digitally mature countries, the “low hanging fruit” in the digitization of public services has already been delivered. The most significant way to improve public services from this point is to join up services, systematically across departments, creating “digital arenas” that create value for the citizen and businesses. One example might be joining mental health data into the welfare or policing system, to improve access to care or to assist vulnerable people in difficult situations. In technical terms, this is not an insurmountable issue and is leading to the use of API rules-based architectures. However, to be effective integration will need to incorporate the use of data from commercial and third sector organizations and this will drive a review of data sharing mechanisms in addition to data governance and ethics. With citizens increasingly wary about data privacy following negative publicity around a number of unsatisfactory private and public sector examples, expect a deep and difficult debate to get rolling in 2019. This will major on the broader questions around the role of government and the value, purpose, and dangers of a systematic way of sharing data across government.

6. New benefit-driven opt-in model for UK citizen ID

Citizen ID is a particularly controversial area in the UK, where it has never been fully accepted or implemented, although the issue can´t be extended to other EU countries, where there are already several alternative national intelligent smart ID card solutions in place. UK Government identity schemes, however, for example, Verify, has not achieved the hoped-for adoption levels and new approaches are needed for managing citizen identity, with the aim of enabling mass adoption of digital government services. In 2019, this realization will come to the fore, driven by the visible success of e-government in various European public sector deployments, such as in Finland, Estonia, and Denmark, combined with the need to reduce the cost of service delivery and improve citizen access to services. Resistance to identity schemes might, perhaps, start to reduce as citizens come to terms with the new data-driven environment in which we all live but do not expect this to be an easy ride. More realistically, the UK approach is now evolving towards an opt-in model to enable mass-adoption of digital government services, by putting citizens in charge of their data and allowing them to specify use cases of their choosing, in return for a better service.

7. Explainable and Accountable AI

2019 will see increasing use of machine learning in the public sector. AI is ultimately about making decisions faster and more efficiently, and the implications of AI adoption on public services delivery will drive a need to understand why AI has made a particular decision and whether that decision was fair. For instance, in healthcare we have seen great strides in AI assisting doctors to diagnose melanomas and cancer but, if the automated diagnosis is to extend to treatment, then the AI decision needs to be transparent, understandable and accountable too. In Estonia, there are already moves to make AI a legal entity, with all the consequences for legal culpability that flow from that. Machine learning can at times be controversial when it is simply targeting advertising – but when it is addressing battlefield targets, care treatments or social care, the ethical stakes are much higher and will need new standards of visibility into the underlying mechanisms of decision-making.

8. Easing pressures on healthcare budgets

For as long as anyone alive can probably remember, healthcare budgets have been a one-way street. New technologies, treatments, and facilities have all been more expensive than the previous generation and public budgets are stretched to breaking point in many countries. We are now entering the first years when technology will systematically reduce healthcare costs. We’ve touched on AI to automate decision-making already (see prediction 7) and this will be joined by new types of residential and remote care, virtualized hospital services, and automated and integrated information flows from sensors and different services used by citizens. The potential is exciting and vast.

9. Cybersecurity

Industrialized cybercrime and new mandatory EU cybersecurity legislation will continue to be challenging for many public organizations. We predict a new focus on a preventive, intelligence-led approach instead of the traditional reactive mode. Also, expect AI to play a growing role in evolving more sophisticated identification of cybersecurity threats and ways of responding to those threats.

10. Cross-border trade – the technological angle

Whether it is the hard or soft variety of Brexit that actually happens in 2019, IT will be essential to solving some of the on-the-ground issues associated with the change in the relationship between the UK and the EU. It can help improve the security and flow of trade and people across borders with integrated tracking. For example, in the UK we have heard much about the potential disruption to medical supplies, drugs – analytics combining data sources from government and commercial sources can streamline drug supply chains, and we will probably see a significant focus on IoT and analytics (incorporating AI) to solve some of these issues.