Much has been made of the unprecedented nature of 2020 and the innovation that accompanied the response to the demands of the pandemic. On reflection, I think last year changed the way we think about innovation (or at least the emphasis of it). We moved away from new entrants disrupting stale markets and faced a ‘stress test’ of the technology infrastructure that the public sector in particular had put in place in the latter half of the 2010s.
How well each organisation fares in every stress test, pandemic or otherwise, depends on the digital freedoms it possesses. In particular, three main digital freedoms have come to the fore in recent months.
Do your systems natively allow staff to get on with their job from any device, at any location? It’s much easier to restrict this freedom for security reasons than try to manufacture it by adding IT for IT’s sake (looking at you, terminal services derivatives).
Do your systems allow you to scale easily with demand? Hint – if you are ordering anything for your data centre, then the answer is no. Freedom of scalability is vital for any system, particularly if you want to make it robust in changing situations or for future crises.
Can you stand up and test new services, fully integrated to existing business processes and customer databases at speed? A progressive IT strategy will equip you with much more than a collection of ‘best of breed’ systems. Covid changed the rules on the timing and extent of change necessary in the public sector, and it needs the flexibility and freedom to adapt to changing circumstances without sacrificing critical public services.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where infectious diseases are our only challenges. As well as the ever-expanding list of commercial organisations suffering digital extortion and damage from organised cybercrime, criminal interest has hit local government hard. Cyber security weaknesses ended up being detrimental of the citizens of Redcar & Cleveland and Hackney, to name just two high profile cases, since the start of last year.
In light of that, I believe every public sector organisation should add cyber resilience as the fourth key digital freedom on the above list. Yes, flexibility of location, scale and speed are important, but if you can’t facilitate these with cast-iron guarantee that you are protected from attack, it weakens the whole package.
Local authorities should be asking themselves: how free does your IT make you feel to meet the challenges of 2021? Which freedoms should we be focusing on to deliver the best services for citizens in need? Digital must become more than an investment and be something that frees staff and citizens alike.