5 highlights from the 2021 Public Sector Trends Report.

Throughout the crisis, the state of digital readiness within the public sector has been on display for the whole world to see. The 2021 Public Sector Trends Report shares insights into how the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in government and public organisations.

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Digital is sweeping
through the public sector.

The government and other public bodies have used digital technology for everything from video conferencing to data-driven decision making and progress updates. At the same time, the burden of legacy technology has become painfully obvious, as seen in the UK with thousands of Covid-19 cases unreported by Public Health England due to outdated Excel spreadsheets. The 2021 Public Sector Trends Report explores the highs and lows in this unique period of change.

The crisis caught the public sector off-guard.

Nobody was prepared for the speed of digital transformation that happened in 2020. More than most industries, the stakes were high as the public sector transitioned towards digital. The success of Covid-19 response programmes such as vaccinations, PPE procurement and test-and-trace have relied on the government’s ability to adapt to new digital patterns, form relationships quickly and attract mass participation. The lessons from these campaigns have highlighted the ongoing need for continued transformation across government. In the 2021 Public Sector Trends Report, 66% of respondents reported ‘unusual growth’ in digital and mobile visitors during the last six months of 2020. On top of that, 37% said they were ‘not very advanced’ when it comes to customer experience. Over the last year, public sector organisations have faced a unique set of challenges - such as building connections with groups that have very distinct requirements online, such as the elderly and vulnerable. It’s clear that there’s no longer a ‘one size fits all’ approach to digital.

Our top recommendation for 2021:

Public sector organisations should focus on experiences, not just interactions. Our 2021 report identified an opportunity for organisations to use AI to expand their digital strategies and create seamless, personalised engagements that are increasingly becoming the norm in other sectors.

Digital projects must deliver improvements.

Considering the pace of change in 2020, it was inevitable that some projects would fall short of their intended impact. However, only 27% of public sector executives described the digital experience they offer as ‘positive’. By comparison, private sector respondents were 54% more likely to have this level of confidence about delivering a strong customer experience. These findings suggest there is significant room for improvement. Of course, government objectives and procedures are different from those of profit-driven business. However, no organisation can claim to be truly customer-centric without having a clear, strategic focus and the ability to keep projects on track to deliver on that vision. People’s digital expectations are set by other consumer-focused industries. The reality is, people are then often left frustrated by clunky interactions with government agencies. The public sector needs to consider major strategic and tactical advances made by top digital performers.

Our top recommendation for 2021:

To deliver better customer experiences, public sector organisations first need a well-rounded view of their audience. 44% of executives claimed to have limited or no insight into the drivers of loyalty and retention and 39% had no insight into the customers’ mindset throughout the journey.

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Clear leadership is needed to make progress.

More than half of public sector respondents admitted their digital initiatives haven't got clear ownership or leadership. Further insights reveal more complex internal barriers. For instance, 58% said they haven't got a licence for innovation and 59% said they lack key skills such as design thinking, journey mapping and data science. The shortfall in relevant skills is a persistent problem exacerbated by fierce competition from private sector companies over digital talent. However, the single biggest challenge facing public sector organisations is the lack of clear KPIs. Setting these goals can be difficult when there’s no standard set to choose and each organisation’s needs are unique. Confidence in this area is low, with 54% of respondents agreeing that there is no clear ownership of digital initiatives. Now more than ever, leadership needs to have a clear vision of culture and organisational goals to set the expectation for digital initiatives.

Our top recommendation for 2021:

To keep up the momentum from 2020, many public sector bodies are now looking to create formal units to focus on digital innovation without fear of failure. This is still a work in progress, with 58% citing a lack of safe space for innovation as a barrier.

How some organisations are leading the way.

Perhaps the most important lesson from the 2021 Public Sector Trends Report is comparing mainstream with top-performing organisations. In the report, we explore why some public sector organisations have an advantage when it comes to understanding their audience. One of the key findings was that leaders are better positioned to secure quality, first-party data. Top-performers were 26% more effective in giving customers easy to use controls to manage permissions. They are also more confident in being able to make improvements to the customer journey. For instance, 23% of leaders believe they are ‘advanced’ in customer experience maturity compared to only 4% of mainstream competitors. However, the challenges are deeper rooted than customer interactions. Firms that pulled ahead in 2020 were less likely to feel that marketing is being held back by internal barriers, from systems-related impediments to processes, skills and culture.

Our top recommendation for 2021:

The next step for public sector organisations is to gather high-quality, first-party data to gain better customer insights. Being able to build trust with users through personalisation and predicting their future requirements is the key to success.

The challenges holding the public sector back.

For public organisations to thrive in a new digital era, they must adopt new attitudes and processes outside of traditional work cultures. The 2021 report, we found that top-performing organisations have empowered their staff throughout the pandemic, giving them more freedom to experiment with marketing and take actions quickly. Focusing on culture will also help them to attract talent and overcome setbacks caused by a lack of digital capabilities. That said, the long-term challenge should be to build trust with users. People are increasingly alert to the value of their personal information. Data legislation such as GDPR has brought this issue to the forefront and there has also been debate around UK government plans to share NHS patient data with Google in recent years. To be effective and sustainable, organisations need to win public trust in how data is used and shared. That means being clear about consent and overcoming concerns that data is used simply to fulfil commercial objectives.

Our top recommendation for 2021:

In the 2021 Public Sector Trends Report, we found that leading organisations were more likely to give customers easy to use controls to manage permissions, communicate the value exchange for consent and be transparent about how data is collected and used. .

Three key insights from the report.


of respondents reported ‘unusual growth in digital and mobile visitors’ in the last six months of 2020 and more than half experienced a change in user journeys.

of executives reported that the digital initiatives ‘often’ or ‘always’ improve the digital experience for users.

of public sector respondents said their digital initiatives haven't got clear ownership or leadership and that they lack key digital skills.

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