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Data compatibility – a leading issue for public sector transformation in 2023

from  September 28, 2023 | 4 min read

Our most recent State of the Digital Nation report paints a picture of a Public Sector still experiencing the aftershocks of 2020 – with digital transformation projects delayed or stagnated and beset by many obstacles. One of the most important themes emerging from this research is that data compatibility has become a key issue for the public sector. It’s also become a larger issue as time has gone on, with more than a third of organizations now saying it requires wholesale improvement. 

In this article, we’ll explore why this is, and how you can go about securing the compatibility and interoperability your organization needs to effectively deliver services.

Achieving data compatibility can help organizations in a number of ways. With our research showing public sector organizations are facing increased pressure to deliver efficiency savings, data compatibility is of course a natural aspiration. Outdated back-office systems are hampering organizations’ ability to be agile and adaptable – data compatibility can help overcome this challenge too by reducing the need to duplicate and manually transfer data between different systems. 

But when compared with 2021, data compatibility across some applications has actually decreased. In 2023 (35%) say data is compatible across some applications, so there is no duplication of data entry – this compares to 53% in 2021. Although there is a decrease in manual data entry, in 2023 there is still more than a third (36%) saying data is manually keyed/ entered by someone from paper to software systems, while 42% say data is manually exported from one system and then imported into another system. Central Govt has the biggest problem with manual data entry (49%) and manual exporting of data (54%), followed by healthcare (50%), but the situation is much more positive in local government, where 53% report no duplication of data across apps.

Couple this with the fact that more respondents in 2023 have told us that compatibility of data across applications and departments requires wholesale improvements (29% in 2023 vs 16% in 2021), its clearly something that need addressing. Again, central government has the highest demand for wholesale improvement (43%), with local government coming in second (29%). Regionally, Canada (41%) has the highest proportion demanding wholesale improvements to data compatibility followed by the UK (35%.) Curiously, Sweden has the smallest proportion suggesting a need for wholesale improvement despite having by far the worst problems with manual data entry.

But this need may be going unaddressed thanks to the many conflicts between technological needs and other strategic priorities. Funding isnt as readily available as it was in 2021 and more organizations are looking for cost savings. This might translate into more effort being put into finding alternative technologies without thinking about how they will integrate.



A much greater proportion are reporting that year end reporting could have been significantly easier for them in 2023 compared to the 2021 data. 54% also state that they need greater access to real-time data in order to be able to manage operations and ensure a good standard of service delivery and cost control. The knock-on impact for financial decision makers is that their ability to meet regulatory requirements is also becoming less easy, with more respondents reporting that it could have been significantly easier than it actually was in this survey. 

If organizations fail to meet regulatory requirements, they will likely suffer financially, which, given the budget cuts already discussed, they can’t really afford.

Overall, there’s a greater degree of pessimism about the promise of transformation in this area. Fewer are confident that transformation will deliver interoperability, which suggests “data” and its integration is seen as a growing sub-component of transformation that isn’t being considered holistically. In 2023 43% were completely confident, compared to 48% in 2021, and adoption of data management tools the top priority as a way to address data compatibility - 52% say they are in adoption mode of data management tools.

Respondents from central government are the least likely to report that data is compatible across systems and, not surprisingly, are also the most likely to report that wholesale changes are needed in this area. While they are not leading the way with their digital transformation progress, they are also more likely to report that their conflicting priorities are stopping their change program, and the most likely (38%) to report they are under pressure to make services slicker and smarter. 

If their change program is stalled and digital transformation is not moving as fast as some other public sector areas, this goes some way to explain why data compatibility has risen to prominence as a key challenge and priority. But achieving data compatibility means considering data as a core part of your organization’s transformation journey – and for many, this may mean going back to the drawing board.

Want to learn more?

For a full appraisal of everything covered in this article – data compatibility is rapidly becoming the central challenge of digital transformation in the public sector – download our full 2023 public sector State of the Digital Nation Report here.

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