James Maynard, solutions director, UKCloud, explains why it’s crucial to not passively accept a quick-fix tech remedy.
Digital transformation has always been a challenge for the public sector. However, since the lock-down, organisations are inching closer to deploying scalable and flexible technologies that can drive innovation and improve overall wellbeing of citizens.
We’ve already seen some impressive moves toward adoption of more useful digital tools in public services, with the most prominent examples found in the health sector. For example, the use of apps for video doctor consultations is increasing and connected devices are being used to monitor patients’ vital signs remotely. The adoption of such ‘digital workplace’ collaboration tools across the public sector is making it more streamlined and able to provide a better service, and we’ll only see digital transformation rates accelerate moving forward.
Of course, all of these rapid changes and establishing of remote infrastructures have been driven by COVID and while we’re a society that increasingly expects digital enablement, the current health pandemic has meant a sharp pivot from physical facetime to online platforms — whether we were ready or not.
The quick fix digital workplace solutions
Many in the public sector have quickly adjusted their workings to deliver critical services to citizens. Digital procurement processes have been greatly accelerated or even completely kickstarted and this has meant a huge decrease in tender times and bypassing the red tape which has infamously slowed public sector digitisation. Suddenly, the restrictions have been loosened and organisations are able to quickly source and onboard technologies they may have been years away from procuring normally.
Innovations in health are beginning to gather pace, with the introduction of smart patient monitoring equipment trials in certain NHS Trusts, aiming to allow clinicians to remotely monitor vital signs of patients. Driven by AI, advanced mobile apps like Docdot, developed by telemedicine experts and data scientists, are enabling doctors to remotely triage patients which will be useful far beyond the lockdown.
Yet, while such digital uptake is undoubtedly a positive, many are in unchartered territory and the decreased time period for a solution to become operational also means there is less time dedicated to carry out audits. How solutions stack up in regard to compliance, security and stability now need to be the focus, or public sector organisations may find that some quick-fix solutions deliver short-term benefits but much longer-term problems.
Cybersecurity in the public sector
In regard to security, the Minimum Cybersecurity Standard (MCSS) was introduced in 2018 and provides the benchmark for all government departments to meet and, where possible, exceed. Developed in collaboration with the government and National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), it is stated that the measures will “continually ‘raise the bar’ to address new threats, class of vulnerabilities and to incorporate new active cyber defence measures”. While aimed at government departments, it’s hoped that the need for rising standards would encourage the rest of the public sector to follow.
The need for improving security measures is important as between 2010 and 2019, more than half (54%) of the fines issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for data breaches were handed out to public sector organisations, with local councils responsible for 30 of them. Such figures, combined with the fact that the UK is the target of an increasing number of hostile state-backed attacks, will begin to impact citizens’ confidence in public sector organisations to keep data secure; a real issue at a time when the same organisations are asking for more data from us in order to operate new digital initiatives. However, the security challenge continues to ever-increase.
Let’s not forget, public sector organisations store an enormous quantity of sensitive data which make them a highly valuable target for cyberattacks. Organisations already had their work cut out when data was stored, managed, and handled on centralised networks, but the sudden enforced adoption of remote working has seen networks stretched and security teams now face another challenge. This combined with other innovation, such as connected wearables handling biometric data, means there will a be a torrent of citizens’ medical-grade data flowing around digital ecosystems and the security must be in place to ensure information is protected. Teams are having to act quickly to ensure any vulnerabilities are identified and addressed before they are exploited.
To create meaningful and long-lasting change, it’s imperative that public sector parties don’t simply view their COVID-19 technology adoption as one-and-done. A poor digital foundation – which may only become apparent over time – could mean a future of data breaches, non-compliance penalties and service disruption, all things which just shouldn’t be taking place in the public sector.
As such, organisations can’t passively accept short-term fixes and must regularly review their remote working tools and processes. This could mean the actual digital workplace applications, solutions used to ensure secure remote access and disaster recovery, type of cloud used to host workflows, or a combination. There’s no perfect setup and organisations have to consistently adapt to ensure they keep data secure and continue to drive the most value out of their digital infrastructure.
Ultimately, the adoption of digital workplace tools by the public sector has been rapidly increased due to COVID-19 and citizens are immediately seeing the advantages — particularly within the NHS, where technology has such powerful potential to do good. Sustaining them is reliant on consistent auditing of tools and wider infrastructure to ensure setups are configured in ways that mitigate risks and increase benefits, but organisations find themselves in a unique position. The removal of some of the red tape has provided the opportunity to build out remote digital infrastructure and it’s an exciting path that can lead to service-changing, citizen wellbeing boosting innovation.