Why the public sector continues to relentlessly pursue digital transformation

A man controlling multiple apps against a city background.
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Across all corners of the public sector, the appetite for rapid and wholesale digital transformation continues to grow. The shift to modern application stacks, based on cloud-native technologies, presents government organizations of all sizes with a springboard to increase innovation velocity and re-imagine citizen and employee experiences. It signals the start of a new era of innovation across the public sector.

But in order to manage this move, technologists need to move beyond the firefighting of recent years and adopt a more proactive and strategic approach to innovation. Otherwise they risk being engulfed by complexity and spiraling volumes of data. 

IT teams urgently need to ensure they have full and unified visibility across their IT estate, including new dynamic cloud-native environments, in order to manage and optimize IT availability and performance at all times. This will be critical for organizations to deliver on their digital transformation objectives and provide citizens with seamless digital experiences.

Pursuit of digital transformation

Even though many countries have thankfully left the worst of the pandemic behind them, the pressures facing public sector organizations shows no sign of easing. 

Soaring energy prices and other socio-economic factors are combining to create the worst cost of living crisis for several generations, meaning that many people (particularly the most vulnerable sections of our societies) are becoming increasingly reliant on public services. But while the demands on public sector bodies grow, their budgets are being squeezed and many departments are finding themselves under-resourced.

In response, public sector leaders are looking to accelerate their digital transformation programs to move more critical services online, free up overworked staff from administrative tasks, and deliver faster and more seamless experiences to citizens. In the UK, for example, the Government’s 2022 Digital Strategy is an ambitious 21-point plan outlining the digital transformation of the government, spanning everything from IT infrastructure to skills.

But it's no secret that transformation in the public sector is hard - a recent global study by McKinsey found that only 22% of major change efforts by governments actually meet their objectives on time and on budget.  

Of course, the onus for delivering digital transformation rests with IT departments. The latest research from Cisco AppDynamics reveals that as many as 80% of technologists are now under continued pressure to deliver innovation more quickly.

digital transformation in a business

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Many technologists are stuck in firefighting mode

The challenge for IT teams is to be able to embed the required speed and scale of innovation into their everyday operations. Anybody that has worked in public sector IT over the past few years will know exactly how reactive IT departments have had to be in order to deliver the innovation that was needed to meet changing citizen needs. 

However, as the pace of innovation gets ever faster, this approach to innovation simply isn’t sustainable on a long-term basis. Technologists need to move away from the firefighting that has characterized the past few years and take a more considered approach to innovation. 

Currently, only 21% of public sector organizations are taking a predominantly strategic approach to innovation and, worryingly, the research finds that public sector technologists are spending less of their time on strategic activities compared with their counterparts in every other sector. 

Encouragingly, the majority of technologists state that their organizations are now attempting to transition to a more proactive, strategic mode of working. There is certainly a broad recognition that public sector organizations need to take a longer term view on innovation and to re-set their digital transformation programs as the next era of innovation gathers pace.

Transforming citizen experiences

Above all else, technologists believe that their organizations will need to reimagine their applications over the next 12 months to meet the changing needs of citizens and to continue to enable hybrid work for their employees. These efforts will necessitate an acceleration towards modern application stacks which can provide a platform for rapid innovation and more agile and resilient operations. Technologists will look to focus investment on cloud-native technologies for all new innovation projects and on tools to ensure application security and performance.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of delivering faultless digital experiences at all times and the implications of poorly performing applications, not only for organizations themselves, but for citizens trying to access critical public services and healthcare. Public sector entities simply can’t afford any service disruption or downtime.

But in order to deliver seamless digital experiences, technologists need to be able to manage and optimize availability and performance across every corner of their IT estate. And with modern application stacks, they need to be able to monitor performance within dynamic cloud-native environments, where everything is constantly changing in real-time. These highly distributed systems rely on thousands of containers and spawn a massive volume of metrics, events, logs and traces (MELT) every second.

Most monitoring solutions aren’t equipped to handle cloud-native environments so technologists are unable to cut through this crippling data noise when troubleshooting application performance problems caused by infrastructure-related issues that span across hybrid cloud environments. They don’t have visibility across an increasingly sprawling and fragmented IT estate.

The worry is that as organizations transition to modern application stacks, IT teams won’t have the means to manage performance in a controlled and proactive way. And this could well result in damage to citizen and employee experience and, ultimately, digital transformation plans being derailed. 

Thankfully, technologists in the public sector are clear on what they need to do to overcome this growing challenge. They recognize the urgent need to generate greater visibility across the IT stack - 82% regard full-stack observability as core to sustainable transformation and innovation. 

They point to a need to invest in new solutions to ensure the security of both traditional and modern application stacks, to build more resilient and agile infrastructures, and to link IT performance data to real-time business metrics. This will enable them to pinpoint the issues that really matter most and prioritize their actions on those issues which could really impact citizen experience.

A feeling of optimism in IT departments

Despite the challenges they face and the pressure to ramp up the pace of digital transformation, the overriding sentiment in most public sector IT departments is one of positivity and excitement. 

The last few years have been hard but technologists have emerged from the pandemic feeling confident and optimistic about the future. They’ve demonstrated their value, learnt new skills and built credibility. They’re now ready to take advantage of the momentum they’ve generated and shift gears, taking a more proactive and strategic approach to innovation.

However, as they look to reimagine their applications and accelerate the shift to cloud-native technologies, they must ensure that they have the tools and insights to manage IT performance and availability and deliver seamless digital experiences at all times. 

Only then will they be able to maximize the impact of current and future digital transformation programs and provide citizens with the seamless and intuitive digital experiences they will rely on during these uncertain times.


James Harvey is the EMEAR CTO at Cisco's AppDynamics. He has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry and offers unique insights into users’ changing relationships with applications.