Martin McFadyen, Head of Public Sector, Virgin Media Business, explains why investing in technology will help us move from reaction to recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced public sector organisations to rethink where they focus resources and how they help their staff adapt to the here and now.
Organisations have made fundamental changes to keep going, with many shifting their operations to work remotely or online. By and large, the public sector has made this shift impressively, having moved at an extraordinary pace and made enormous changes while continuing to support staff, customers and citizens.
But while lockdown will eventually end, ways of working in the public sector will never be the same again. Organisations are already thinking seriously about the investments they need to make to ensure their workforce can provide high-level services long term, regardless of where staff and their customers are based. Upgrading their infrastructure and levelling up technological skills are two places to start.
Getting the ball rolling
Improving efficiencies in the public sector brings tangible benefits for the countless people, communities and businesses that rely on our public services. We want people working in the public sector to be equipped to meet their daily challenges quickly and confidently – whether working on large planning projects or helping with individual council tax enquiries. And that’s before we mention the vital social, health and care services that have been crucial throughout the coronavirus pandemic. These are vital services which simply cannot ‘not work’.
But to be efficient, the organisations providing these services need to access information reliably, safely, securely and at speed.
The rapid transformation we’ve seen in recent months has been easier in some organisations than others and their success has depended largely on how much they have invested in networks to date. Now, more than ever, there’s a need to have the infrastructure in place which allows public sector bodies to flex and rapidly make changes to support staff and customers, in response to a fast-changing world.
Social distancing obligations are likely to continue until at least the end of the year, with organisations compelled by government to stick with working from home if they can. Beyond policy demands, there are cultural factors at play. If, as studies suggest, people are enjoying the greater flexibility of working anywhere, anytime, then they will expect to be able to do so in future. Now is the time for public sector organisations to invest in the infrastructure that will allow them to make long-term changes, so their people are set up for success, no matter where they are working from.
The remote reality
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown an extra complication into the fray. Our public sector workers must maintain high levels of service despite many now working from home. Our own research found that 60% of the entire UK workforce will work from home by 2022.
For organisations that handle sensitive information on a daily basis – as almost all public sector organisations do – this will raise concerns over security. And while short term solutions may have been found, organisations must ask themselves how they can enable their people to work from home as well as they do in the office, while protecting sensitive data.
Technology provides one answer. Collaborative tools such as Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams have kept many businesses going through this period of uncertainty. Organisations will benefit from staying on top of the latest developments in communication software, as the right cloud-based communication tools give staff the ability to adapt to new ways of working while keeping information and data secure.
When implementing new tools, it is vital that workers are bought along for the journey from the outset. In a sense, the solutions many organisations have started using during the coronavirus pandemic illustrate this point. Organisations across the public sector have rapidly rolled out new technology and tools because they directly enable and empower employees to be effective in their jobs, despite being physically absent from their normal place of work.
That focus on the end-user – and delivering tools which meet their needs – is vital when looking at longer-term solutions. Because new technology that is forced upon staff without warning, and without a clear rationale, can have a negative effect on morale and productivity.
Organisations need to have certain elements in place for success: clear use cases, straightforward training programmes and easy-to-access support. But, most importantly, they must have an engaging narrative of how this technology will help workers and the organisation deliver better services to those who use them.
Connectivity benefits all
Boosting investment in infrastructure and technology will have wide-ranging advantages—from the public sector workers that make direct use of boosted connectivity, to businesses and citizens that benefit from improved services.
This investment will provide public sector organisations with scalable and secure foundations – empowering a workforce with next-generation networks that channel information between buildings, employees and data centres quickly and securely.
Crucially, these organisations don’t need to rip out legacy systems or begin an overwhelming transformation project to strengthen themselves for the long term. By choosing the right technology partner and provider, organisations can create the right outcomes for employees, service users and citizens, as we move on to the next stage of rebound and recovery.