Digital Tools and Disruptive Technology in the Public Sector: Taking Small Steps to Make a Big Difference

When we talk about disruptive technology, many people immediately think of outlandish and extreme changes in workflow and behaviour. However, there are plenty of small changes and simple tools we can use to help make the workplace a smarter, and more streamlined place.

Changing the way you work

As we welcome Generation Z into the workplace, it’s an opportunity to examine our ways of working and find ways to make the working day easier. For example, using automation to take over mundane, repetitive tasks to free up teams to focus on knowledge-based tasks and projects.

You might not consider the humble smartphone or tablet to be disruptive technology but, in fact, they have fundamentally changed the way we can work. We’ve been able to take calls from anywhere for a long time, but the ability to access emails remotely is becoming more commonplace across the public sector – with some offices doing away with landline phones altogether. Moreover, we’re seeing the development of smartphone applications and tools that help us carry out all manner of tasks away from the traditional workplace.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

Digital road-mapping and collaboration tools offer amazing opportunities for teams to work together – whether they’re in the same place or not.

Using project management and road-mapping apps that replicate agile Kanban boards is a great way to share your personal and team workflows, assign tasks, and keep track of progress. These apps can usually be used on a phone or computer, and many are free for smaller teams. This sort of team management software empowers your team to balance their workload, prioritise different tasks and track progress.

Apps that allow teams to keep track of spending and digitally capture receipts and invoices can save money and time, and reduce the chance of information being

Keeping track and keeping in touch

The apps, tools and technology we’ve talked about so far all have one thing in common – they allow you to keep track of work and spend digitally – and from anywhere. This isn’t an exercise in micro-management – rather it’s an opportunity to move towards a smarter, more outcomes-focused way of working.

Measuring outcomes rather than presenteeism allows managers to fully understand the workload, capacity and resources of their team. This, in turn, allows you to see where issues or bottlenecks are occurring, and fix them quickly. This fail-fast approach (which falls in line with agile methodologies) means you can make fast, informed decisions and get the most out of your workforce, whilst allowing them to work in a flexible way that suits them.

In order for this sort of outcome-based approach to work, you need to clear the path for your teams to meet their goals. Automation is a fantastic way of doing this. Taking away as many obstacles allows a skilled workforce to focus on projects and tasks that will deliver clear and measurable outcomes to the organisation.

By examining your workflow (perhaps using some of the digital tools we’ve already talked about), you can spot where repetitive or time-consuming tasks are getting in the way of workflow and – wherever possible – look to automate those processes to free up your workforce, and speed up your workflow.

Making things easier by making them simple

Introducing measures like AI and robotic process automation can greatly streamline your workflow. If you’re customer-facing, or deal with enquiries from within the organisation, encouraging the use of an online portal rather than a traditional telephone helpline can increase customer satisfaction by delivering immediate resolutions (even out of hours), as well as offering significant savings to the organisation.

Machine learning can help improve decision making. By drawing conclusions from large quantities of data, you can use these unbiased conclusions to adjust your activities. This can have a significant impact on the financial aspects of your business, as well as on areas like workflow, planning, forecasting and reporting. Being able to make adjustments in real time based on data is a strong and robust way to make business decisions – from budgeting to human resources – and almost everything else in between.

Accountability across the board

Finally, we need to talk about accountability. Although, in the public sector, we’ve long been concerned with ensuring good value to the taxpayer, it’s not always been easy to track and trace accountability across the board. Combining the use of transparent project management boards, robust reporting powered by unbiased data analysis and harnessing real-time data about your workforce, it becomes much easier to apply accountability best practice.

Accountability doesn’t stop at the workforce. Using machine learning and AI to make real-time adjustments and to influence forecasting also makes managers and senior leaders more accountable for their decision making.

Whether you’re making small changes or planning a more extensive overhaul, always make sure you’re putting people at the centre. Any adaptations to the way we work, no matter how small, require the buy-in of the people the changes will affect. Take the time to consult your workforce, and always allow for an honest, transparent feedback loop.

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Post by Carrie Kleiner,
Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief at UK Parliament

Carrie Kleiner was instrumental in taking GOV.UK's blogging platform from its infancy through to being the most established government blogging platform in the world; home to over 100 blogs and thousands of contributors. Carrie wrote Government Digital Service's first editorial strategy and went on to become the Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief at UK Parliament - writing their first ever content strategy and editorial direction.

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