Why the public sector should invest in business process management

Transformation is a fact of life in the public sector. As the needs and concerns of citizens change, so too must the services and processes of the governments that serve them. Sometimes, this change happens slower than it should — change can be complicated at the best of times. But in the most turbulent of times, like the ones we’ve experienced over the past 18 months, it can feel downright disruptive.

This isn’t to say that embarking on digital transformation – the most recent evolution in the public sector — should be avoided or delayed. The opposite is true. The very process of implementing digital transformation can help to identify wasteful processes, recognise efficiencies, and create new opportunities. The public sector makes up a large chunk of the national economy, therefore performance improvements can have significant effects on overall economic performance as well as the successful delivery of health, education, and other social services.

The UK Government recognises this potential. In its National Data Strategy, it states that many legacy systems are “out of date, costly to operate and incapable of exchanging data with one another, presenting challenges in a world where public services are increasingly interconnected – be that between health and social care provision, tax and benefits or across policing, courts, prisons and probation.” The report goes on to state that “treating data in the public sector as a strategic asset, with appropriate governance, will save time and money and drive better outcomes for us all”.

So, with many public sector organisations ripe for digital transformation, the government encouraging these transformations and the potential benefits laid out, what’s holding them back, how can we overcome the obstacles, and where do we start?

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The barriers and entry points to tech adoption

As with any organisational change, there are degrees of resistance to digital transformation. From the sweeping “We’ve never done it that way before”, to nuanced concerns around ensuring new technology is fit-for-purpose and agile enough to adapt to future needs. Broadly these concerns fall into three categories: People, Processes and Technology.

I put people first on that list because it is the most essential element to any digital transformation. The public sector will never be run by technology alone. Technology can unlock opportunity and help the public sector realise its potential; but it’s humans who need to help design the systems and processes to make the most of the data. This is why any true digital transformation project begins by ensuring that management has bought into the transformation, users are consulted and trained, and the teams who’ll be supporting the technology going forward are knowledgeable, skilled and have access to a wider support network.

Next come processes, and often this points back to users because to understand and automate processes; we must consult with users. They may lack the incentive to share data – they may think it’s too expensive or not necessary. They may not know what data can be made available or how to trust that the processes are of a commercial benefit or are ethical. They may simply not be able to visualise how technology can help them automate processes that have never been digitised.

These are hurdles to overcome, but there are models to address them all. To incentivise sharing data, organisations can restrict access to data that is useful to them or only allow access if they have contributed data themselves. Processes can be implemented to enable easier discovery of datasets. Financial and ethical concerns can be addressed by ensuring technology is used effectively and by applying privacy-enhancing technology. The key to overcoming these hurdles is usually to find a technology partner who has previous experience in implementing these types of transformations.

Finally, technology: will it be cost effective? Will it be difficult for users to navigate? Will it cause major disruption while it’s being implemented? Will it simplify or add complexity to existing processes? Though in the case of technology, the public sector can benefit from its predecessors and technology companies who have a wealth of experience in creating solutions that are designed to adapt to the needs of the organisations they serve. Many organisations, particularly in the private sector, are well along the path of digital transformation and have paved the way for public sector bodies to reap the benefits. Likewise, technology, particularly delivered in the cloud, has advanced to a point where it is highly agile and cost effective.

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Business process management as a place to start

Business process management is a discipline, technique and tool that makes it possible to deliver transparent and efficient systems that effectively service communities.

In the public sector sphere, it can enable alignment of policy and strategy with its operational execution It can also increase transparency, provide an oversight for accountability, enable continuous improvement of services provided, increase quality, reduce costs and help with quicker responses to policy changes and unplanned events.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to help us predict the challenges that society or the public sector will face in the coming years. But BPM technology can make it easier for the public sector to adapt and be resilient in the face of challenges. Through an optimisation of the processes it already performs and the resources it already offers, the public sector can better empower its employees and serve its citizens.

Written by Satpal Biant, head of public sector at SAP UK

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