The challenges of making the Public Sector public

By Nathan Steiner, Head of Systems Engineering ANZ, Veeam

There is an increasing expectation among consumers that information and services should be available as and when they are needed. Thanks to innovation across technology sectors, we are used to the fact that questions can be immediately answered, problems can be immediately solved. Automation through bots continues to satisfy the requirement for instant gratification in this digital era.

But in the public sector, innovation is more closely confined by regulation across multi-dimensional stakeholders, legislation and differing agendas of respective government service agencies that takes a little longer to catch up to user expectation. The increased focus to drive and deliver services enhancements alongside technology adoption are there, but as citizens, it continues to be misaligned with our expectation of a public sector that is able to serve our needs and keep up technologically.

The introduction of open data in private sectors, such as finance, has seen innovation and success across the globe; but what are the barriers preventing this success from translating to the public sector?

Keeping public data private

Staying with the financial example, open banking regulations have created a boom of financial technology businesses in both Europe and the US, all competing to make life easier for consumers. For Australia, the questions lie largely around what privacy requirements will be introduced along the lines of Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations).

While GDPR itself is European-centric, it has implications for any private multinationals that are doing business on the continent. But its importance for Australia lies around the changes that our legislators and regulators are considering as a result – there’s an ongoing conversation around what compliance and what mechanisms and policies are appropriate for our country and our region that will form our own version of data protection regulation.

How this translates to the public sector is hugely important. You only need to look at the controversies surrounding My Health Records – ostensibly a sensible idea that will allow for more comprehensive service provision – to see that data protection and privacy is under the microscope in the public sector.

Dude, where’s my data?

One of the largest challenges facing the public sector is data storage and maintaining data availability across a vast series of separate but interconnected departments and services. Open data offers a target state that we want to get to, but one challenge that we see, in Australia and New Zealand especially, is how to get around the inherently siloed aspect of public sector data.

How can we deal with the idiosyncrasies of different government agencies and services that have ownership over respective silos and structures of data? If we’re trying to cross-pollinate this immense volume of public data and make it available on a single platform, we would need a way to access and standardise these myriad data siloes.

Even then, this would take us back to the challenge of data privacy; if we’re talking about making health data available, for example, there would be underlying legislative impediments to consider before we would be able to harness the power of a publicly available public sector.

Taking services online:

At the heart of this open data revolution is a desire to revolutionise the citizen experience. I’ve written previously about the scope for data-driven smart cities to reinvent the way we interact with public services, and this is true for large portions of the public sector as well. Aside from healthcare, the opportunities for local government, emergency services or education to harness the data revolution are huge.

Take education as a prime example. Already, an increasing number of establishments are turning to e-learning as part of modernising education for younger generations, and last year saw students taking their exams digitally on specially modified systems for the first time.

But as more services go through a process of digital transformation, we become increasingly reliant on the constant availability of data. Data outages are no longer just a business problem – it could mean the loss of curriculum materials or, worse, exam results.

It is a natural expectation that more and more of our services will move online, and more of our public sector will move online with it. But that digitisation process needs to be accompanied by serious considerations of our regulation, compliance and legislation ecosystems, as well as a discussion around what the technology looks like and how government agencies and services are going to be able to architect and deliver it.

As the stakes rise in our digital infrastructure, so too must the commitment to protecting and safeguarding this data and these processes.