Digitalisation is all well and good but only when delivered consistently, with the needs of all public sector bodies taken into consideration. In this way, interoperability is the enabler to effective digital transformation, empowering administrations to share information cross-departmentally, with residents and other organisations. Simply put, when systems integrate, so, too, can separate teams, increasing efficiency, reducing red tape, and facilitating data flows and engagement between administrations and citizens.
Systems which do not talk to each other cause friction and open organisations up to digital security risks and reputational damage. All too often, this is how data is lost, through clunky platforms and processes, which employees find confusing or disruptive. We see time and again, across healthcare organisations and public sector bodies, that different agencies utilise different solutions, causing great frustration when these teams need to share data securely between them. Incompatibility of technology and IT infrastructures limit interoperability between and within organizations, limiting the true power of data in improving service delivery.
Yet, in the wake of tightening budgets, limited guidance, and lacking digital skills, what are local authorities to do? Differing requirements across the public sector make wide-spread adoption of interoperable frameworks nigh on impossible. Legal obstacles also cause friction, as well as legacy infrastructure and technical constraints to name a few. Siloed teams implement platforms to meet their short-term needs, as we saw happen during the global pandemic - solutions today which are causing more damage than good.
Custom built platforms rarely deliver a positive user experience; firewalls can cause blockages when communicating with agency partners, such as the police or private sector institutions. Often, recipients are required to navigate clunky in-house portals and create accounts to access data. Social housing agencies, for example, engage with local authorities with regards to universal credit and adult social care. These teams handle particularly sensitive data and lots of it.
As a result, time-poor employees seek alternative solutions for engaging with stakeholders. For example, when under pressure to fulfill information access requests within a time limit, employees naturally weigh up the consequences between failure to fulfill their duty within the time limit and the resulting action from the ICO, and the security and accessibility risks associated with third party file sharing solutions. Often, this is how public sector organisations find themselves in the headlines for small mistakes with the biggest consequences.
Indeed, interoperability is the elephant in the room on the matter of digital transformation. When data protection and compliance is absolutely critical, embedding a framework of consistent, user-friendly communications technology is anything but easy. So what is the solution?