IT in the public sector
Connectivity has been a buzz word in the private sector for a long time now. Businesses, banks, retailers and hospitality companies are among those that have become more financially and operationally efficient through investing in technology – not to mention the marketing benefits of embracing social media.
IT in the public sector has more incentive than ever to improve through sharpening its employee skills set. In 2012, the Government launched its initiative to save £500m a year through its Digital by Default Agenda. The ultimate aim is to make the UK the most digital government by 2015.
Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, report Directgov 2010 and Beyond: Revolution Not Evolution said: “For years, businesses have been using digital communications to improve services and engagement with their consumers. Government should take advantage of the more open, agile and cheaper digital technologies to deliver simpler and more effective digital services to users.”
However, Government minister Francis Maude has admitted that there are inconsistencies between departments and their digital capabilities and that some are not yet up to speed. This is borne out by a new report by Totaljobs.com and Dods Research called Recruiting for today’s public sector, which finds that IT is one of the four main skills areas that are lacking in the public sector.
Here are five areas that need attention…
• Technical skills
Improvement here is needed to support the delivery of public services and push forward the Digital by Default agenda. The Totaljobs report suggests that the public sector needs to market itself more successfully in order to attract high-calibre candidates, which chimes with findings of a previous Totaljobs and CEBR report that found “poor perception of the public sector” was the most common barrier when trying to attract sparkling new talent. Rightly or wrongly, the private sector has a sexier image of high salaries and more cutting-edge facilities and procedures.
• Expertise to provide inhouse digital solutions and create efficiencies
Again, there is a need to draw from the private sector, particularly when it comes to improving service for the customer. Martha Lane Fox, the UK Digital Champion, has suggested the Government should provide higher quality and more convenient 24/7 services to users. In her Directgov 2010 and Beyond report, she argues that as well as delivering better services for citizens, shifting 30% of government service delivery contracts to digital channels could deliver gross annual savings of more than £1.3b, rising to £2.2b if 50% of contracts shifted to digital.
• Staying abreast of innovation
The evolving nature of IT often means that demand for new IT skills outstrips supply. Bear in mind that 54% of respondents in the Totaljobs.com report said they did not think their organisation had the skills required to meet their set objectives. While these skills weren’t solely in IT, as new technologies move from invention to mainstream application, there is a constant need to keep reassessing skills, training and recruitment, to ensure changing demands can be met. Continuous training or collaboration with other more technology focused departments in line with private sector practice could help implement this.
• Better cyber security skills
A report last year by the National Audit Office highlights the need for more cyber security expertise to protect the country and its citizens from fraud. One way to do this is to generate more interest in the subject among technology students. Speaking at the time the report was published, Guy Bunker, senior vice-president of products at security vendor Clearswift, said more needed to be done to make cyber security a more appealing area to work in. “There needs to be more publicity for those who do ‘save the earth’ from the latest virus, or those who thwart internet-based industrial espionage [and] a need for greater rewards.”
• Connectivity and communications
Respondents to the Totaljobs report highlighted the need for better information management and data analysis. This is an area where many private sector organisations excel – using Twitter and social media to reach the public and using intranet and social media to keep staff in the loop. Again, these are skills that could be brought into the public sector through recruiting talent from outside the department or from the more commercially aware private sector.