Perfect storm pushing public sector to AI: Survey

Micro Focus has released the findings of the 2022 Digital Challenges in the Public Sector study, created in partnership with Omdia, which examines the common technology trends facing the Australian public sector. While it was revealed technology investment is increasing across Australia, with more than 50 per cent of respondents anticipating an IT spending rise during the next 18 months, the public sector is facing a perfect storm driven by skills shortages, increased demand, and capabilities of legacy systems. 

The public sector is under increasing pressure to supply comparable digital user experiences to private enterprises, such as eCommerce platforms, while protecting citizen data, on systems that can often be years or decades out of date.

The white paper reports the sector is struggling to fill almost any technical role and relies heavily on contract labour, with some projects having as few as five per cent public service staff within a delivery team.

Driven by this combination of shortfalls in skilled resource availability, the inability to be salary-competitive with the private sector, and increasing operational expectations, the public sector is anticipating a shift to artificial intelligence operations (AIOps) to ease pressure. 

Key findings of the study include: 

Technology resources are scarce: Specifically, sourcing skilled cybersecurity, architecture, and developers are pain points. Agencies are addressing resourcing gaps by partnering with service providers or developing training programs in high-demand areas, such as cybersecurity.

AI presents a new opportunity: Globally, the adoption of AIOps across all industries is accelerating, with most organisations expecting to see full adoption by 2023. In Australia, government agencies are actively investigating the use of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based service solutions, underpinned by AI and automation to ease pressure, cost, and complexity. 

Time-to-delivery is critical: Stakeholders routinely compare agencies with agile, flexible, and consumer-focused commercial entities, and the primary criticism is that everything takes too long. As such, more than 50 per cent of respondents plan to invest in constituent experience software such as compliance management, enterprise resource planning, and business continuity in the next 18 months. 

Technical debt undermines agility: To bridge old and new solutions, government executives overwhelmingly agree progressive use of cloud-based solutions (Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and SaaS) can eliminate, or at least minimise, technical debt. Global agencies see less than 35 per cent of future capabilities being delivered under traditional models. 

John Garratt, federal government director, Micro Focus, said, “As the world recovers from the global pandemic, this year’s Digital Challenges in the Public Sector report highlights the pressure that Australian government agencies have experienced the last few years. At a time of increased demand, departments have been struggling to deliver services with skeleton teams, out-of-date systems, and competition with the private sector.

“In the next 18 months, dependence on solutions like SaaS, PaaS, and AI will increase, easing the strain on already-burdened departments.” 

This year’s 2022 Digital Challenges in the Public Sector report also outlined recommendations for public sector agencies to deal with their underlying technical challenges: 

1. Leverage AIOps to maximise scarce skilled resources. Agencies should take advantage of modern SaaS AIOps offerings to avoid the cost and complexity of multiple on-premises monitoring tools. Automating discovery, monitoring, and remediation will ensure that valuable staff can focus on activities that deliver maximum benefits.

2. Use a value-based and risk-based lens approach to communicate the trade-offs in technology investment decisions. As management boards focus ever more closely on risk, they should translate IT investment priorities into relatable concepts for senior decision-makers.

3. Progressively use SaaS, where appropriate, to minimise future technical debt. SaaS solutions are updated by the provider, and therefore never more than one release behind the current version.

4. Adopt and promote a standardised platform-function PaaS architecture to speed up the delivery of new capabilities. Minimising delivery time is essential. Building common functions from PaaS components will make delivery more responsive to stakeholder requirements.

5. Understand the profile of legacy applications and appropriately mitigate associated risks. Solutions running on unsupportable hardware and/or software embed organisational risk and should be prioritised for retirement or replacement.

John Garratt said, “Delivering seamless services involves a balancing act between modern and legacy systems, expectations, and capability to provide good value for staff and end users alike. With investments in IT set to rise, it is essential that public-sector agencies take advantage of technology to bridge gaps in efficiency, boost positive outcomes, and keep costs low.”

In partnership with Omdia, the study was developed from primary data drawn from Omdia’s 2022 Enterprise Insights Survey coupled with one-on-one interviews with senior executive decision-makers in the Australian public service and government technology space. Confidential interviews were held during June 2022 to confirm underlying trends within the government technology space.

Click here to read the full 2022 Digital Challenges in the Public Sector whitepaper.