5 factors driving the greatest transformational change in the public sector
We’ve all heard more than enough about the effects of COVID on the way that we handle work and collaboration across all sectors. But its impact really can’t be understated. Initiatives that we expected to be completed 5 or even 10 years from now have been accelerated rapidly – in ways seldom seen in the public sector.
With the majority of public services – from primary healthcare to financial and payments services to courts, education, and elderly care – now being handled remotely, we’ve seen many more large-scale experiments in government rolled out in one year than are typically seen in a generation.
For entities like governments – which are in some ways designed to resist change – this kind of enforced upheaval can seem extremely daunting.
But change is inevitable – and like COVID, the 4 other trends we’ll be covering in this article have one important thing in common. They’re all challenges that can be met head on with a focus on people, and on the way that organizations use their technology, their culture, and their tools to empower people to provide ever better levels of service.
2. Technology can change how we work – but also our capacity to fulfil organizational missions
Change in the public sector is generally incremental – it makes things faster, better, or cheaper by degrees. But technologies like AI, cloud computing, and new entrants to the public sector like blockchain, all have the capacity to completely re-architect the ways in which we carry out certain workflows and processes.
This kind of wholesale disruption isn’t without its challenges. Data has become ubiquitous in recent years – but securing it and using it efficiently themselves create new categories of risk, and necessitate wholly new regulatory approaches.
But the fact of the matter is technology will bring change to the public sector – and faster than ever before. We can actually predict which new technologies are likely to be introduced with some accuracy simply by watching what’s being adopted in the private sector. Doing this can help give your organization a head-start on preparing your people for the next round of disruption – through up- and cross-skilling and by making changes to your strategic plans that account for the capabilities of the new normal.
The future of the government will always be in the hands of its leaders – both of the present and of the future. To ensure institutions remain relevant and capable of delivering services and value for money, leaders must be prepared – not just to address the big external challenges of population ageing, the changing nature of the employment market, environmental crises, and technological transformation. They must be prepared first to tackle the reform of their own organizations.
To many government leaders this task may seem slightly more daunting even than fully addressing climate change. But if institutions can’t transform themselves, they won’t be able to transform society. This is another area in which a people success strategy will be crucial to objective success as leaders seek out and onboard new talent – and provide them and their existing staff with the tools and training to do their jobs unimpeded by legacy systems (whether those be technological or cultural.)
4. Fundamental changes to society and business
Technology itself isn’t the first mover in big shifts in the public sector. Technology’s development is simply a response to ongoing changes in society itself. Economic and social pressures, demographic change, and global geopolitical factors all create challenges that can only be met by technology.
COVID is obviously the most dramatic example of one such “exogenous shock” to the way we all approach things, having caused a huge acceleration of digitization and virtualization. One of the more salient examples of this process for public sector organizations at the local and regional levels is population ageing. A reality of developed economies which is forcing governments to change policies across every domain from employment and labor to healthcare, economics, and the social safety net.
Looking forward to the future, changes to the social climate are also likely to create pressures which lead to changes in the way we prioritize all aspects of our lives. Organizations must have the right mixture of talent and technology in place to address these challenges – and to anticipate the changes they themselves will catalyze.
5. Synergistic and stigmergic effects
The changes we’re currently experiencing have a character that was much less significant – if not absent – in previous eras. This is their tendency to integrate with and feed off each other.
Two concepts public sector leaders should familiarise themselves with quickly are synergy and stigmergy.
Despite its status as a buzzword from another era of corporate management, synergy is a more relevant concept today than ever. Technology is conspiring to create “synergy” – that is to say, wholes greater than the sum of their parts – in ways never before thought possible. Wearable technology, predictive analytics, and “nudge” theory can create medicinal treatments and services far more precise and effective than in previous decades. Similarly, cloud computing, robotic process automation, and low-code customization can create operations platforms that allow their users to create new and more efficient workflows on the fly. It’s vital that public service organizations equip their people with the right synergistic mixture of tools to minimize their direct involvement in low value tasks so they can concentrate on the delivery of key services and citizen value.
This one’s a bit more of a mouthful – but no less important. Stigmery describes a process in which the actions taken by one individual or group create environmental conditions that stimulate the performance of further actions that allow complex systems to emerge without central planning. (If you’ve ever seen the patterns created by a flock of birds flying, you’ve seen this principle in action.)
The stigmergic effects of technology and environment on the performance of your people will need to become a primary concern if your organization is to succeed in the post-COVID world. Leaders should be prepared to harness technology to create working environments that stimulate the right kinds of working patterns in the organization – by keeping them engaged, motivated, and focused on outcomes rather than on the minutiae of procedure and repetitive manually executed processes. Failure to do this will result in increasing disengagement, elevated levels of people turnover, and the inability of your organization to handle the unique challenges posed by the public sector’s future.
And that means the platforms you choose to create your operating environment must be fit not just to handle today’s challenges, but the challenges today creates for tomorrow.
How Unit4 can help
Over the past 10 years, Unit4 has been helping organizations across the public sector in multiple countries to modernize their operations and prepare for a digitally connected future. We’re a people-focused business, creating solutions specifically adapted for organizations whose people are their primary asset (in industries like professional service, the public sector, higher education, and nonprofits.) Our Human Capital Management platform is designed to help you optimize every part of your peoples’ experience from hiring to engagement to performance, training, career management, and up-, cross-, and reskilling.