Dynamics Matters Podcast Ep 84: Don’t be afraid of adopting new technology

With special guest Andy Venter, Head of Public Sector, HSO 

✔ Why you don't need to be afraid of adopting new technology

✔ But why you do need to think about how you're adopting it

✔ Why apprentice programmes can help close the skills gap


Welcome to episode 84 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.

Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.

And I’m your host, Michael Lonnon.

Times are tougher, right?

Imagine being a Public Sector organisation, trying to deliver on the needs of a growing community but with a reducing – relatively speaking – budget, and shrinking talent pool.

It’s difficult.

And so I grabbed HSOs Head of Public Sector, Andy Venter, to get his thoughts on how Public Sector organisations can improve service delivery, find efficiencies, and close the skills gap to help more people in more ways.

So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Michael Lonnon
Glass half empty or glass half full?

Andy Venter
Half full. Always be grateful for what you have got and not want for what you don’t have.

Michael Lonnon
I was not expecting that sentiment and that was a really sweet one. I'm going to make sure I tell my kids that. In terms of looking at things in glass half empty or glass half full sort of ways, I was reading just a minute ago that the UK is likely not to go into recession as it looks like our economy has grown; the line, I think it said the UK avoids recession, for now. Glass half empty comment. From your perspective in the public sector, what sort of trends are we going to see in 2023?

Andy Venter
I think it's an interesting headline and for me always, is this thinking about cost-of-living crisis versus are we in recession or not, are those two things the same thing, no, they're not, are they interlinked, yes, potentially. The fact that we avoid going into a technical recession versus that actually takes away the challenges that exist for public sector and I don't think that it takes away from how public sector will need to react to the cost-of-living situation. So, I don't think any of that goes away. If anything, the pressure will continue to add into local authorities. We need to remember that with public sector, local authorities, that's great but does it reflect in terms of we are a growing population anyway and are we giving public sector more money in real terms or are we saying that more of the services are falling behind, and therefore they continue to be in a position where they need to do more, with less. That is a constant, and I cannot see that changing in the short term.

Michael Lonnon
That more with less theme is something Microsoft is focused on. What does that mean, from a technology point of view, from a Microsoft point of view?

Andy Venter
Before we get into the technology side of thing because I think technology, is an enabler, it's not the solution. Let’s think about a typical local authority, for example the population in their catchment will always be growing, which means that more people will need or demand services from a local authority. I can almost guarantee you that if you look at headcount, simple equation in a local authority you can almost guarantee that if you look at a local authority across the country, I’ll be surprised if any of the head counts are increasing. So, if you're saying the head count is not increasing, as a matter of fact, I mean, we went through massive reductions over the last number of years. So, if headcount is not increasing, and most likely decreasing, yet there are more people in that authority’s catchment, how are they delivering the services? So they have to find ways of doing things, smarter, better, all that sort of stuff, and so this is where, for example, Microsoft, and obviously, you know, it's not just dependent on Microsoft but that's where technologies like Microsoft, are there to help to become that enabler for the authorities to do more with less. The way they do that as they try and drive efficiencies in certain areas to free up people's time.

Michael Lonnon
In public sector organisations, local authorities, housing organisations, do you think they're using, or that they understand the possibilities of technology to help them to do more with less and define these efficiencies?

Andy Venter
I think there's a number of different angles you can come at with that question, Michael. So, the first thing is, you say do they understand, I think some probably better than others. As you go up and down the country, you look at certain authorities, public sector organisations, some will do better than others, you're always going to have outliner, leaders, all that sort of stuff. Interesting thing for me and again, I’m not going to paint everybody with the same brush but an interesting thing that I have seen is when authorities do introduce people from commercial or private sector, because they come with new ideas into the organisation that sometimes has an impact and add an element to this one, one is do they understand, the other one is, do they have the ability to implement? If you think about, if they're struggling to deliver against existing demands, where do they find the time to pause and to look at how they can be applied? So, what I was saying there it's twofold. One is, are they aware and the second one is can they actually adopt? I think this is where, for me, public sector partners, and partners is a big word, right? I mean, it can be with a technology partner, whether you're a consultant, etc. I think public sector partners need to lean in a bit more to try and be a bit more sympathetic to what these guys are trying to achieve.

Michael Lonnon
How are the best organisations you've seen in public sector approaching the difficulties they're facing?

Andy Venter
A difficult question to pigeonhole anybody into, but again, for me, one of the things I've seen is where organisations aren't scared to do something different. I do think, and again, understandably, a lot of public sector organisations do the same thing, because they know it will keep them going, pretty much business as usual. Again, coming back to my earlier point, I've seen some organisations bring in external people, different backgrounds, etc, that don't have the complacency of doing the same thing. They're coming in with new ideas, new approaches, and they're not scared to apply that to see how that will affect. For me, that's been a real interesting observation over the last 20 odd years that I've been in public sector.

Michael Lonnon
Do you think that sums up observation and trying things differently, because what we're seeing is a lot of smaller point solutions solving some of the bigger challenges. And if I turn that around, is actually a product service organisations using things like, for example, power platform to create applications to solve particular problems, rather than buying whole end to end solutions to solve those problems. We're seeing quite a bit of that coming through. Do you think that's going to be a continuation of these new approaches they're taking?

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Andy Venter
Yeah, let's not be specific to power platform, although, yes, you know, we're a Microsoft partner so would be power platform but let's look at low code. Low code is having a real impact in public sector because it's doing a couple of things. One is it's moving away from deep coding. Now there will always be a need for some kind of developer style approach, we can't get away from it completely, but what it’s doing is allowing organisations to say that we don't have to be dependent on heavy technical skill sets to deal with the demand coming from the business when it comes to innovation. So, coming back to doing something different, organisations have demand if you go to any public sector organisation, I will be surprised if they haven't got a backlog of requests coming from across the business. If you look at the IT teams or development teams inside those organisations, they can't deal with all the demand. Even when they outsource, even public sector organisations outsource some of that services you find you add another level of complexity because you got to go through a sign off approval process, got to go through a change request, whatever it is so therefore, the time to try and get something approved to be then implemented takes too long. What low code solutions or technologies allow these public sector organisations to do, is to take a different approach, empowering some of the users where possible, in the right kind of way still need to be governed, that allows them to apply fixes or adopting new ways of doing things quickly, releasing some of that demand on some of those teams that can't cope with those requests at the moment.

Michael Lonnon
If you had a piece of advice, for 2023, for public sector organisations, to try and help them get through the challenges they're facing at the moment, would it be about empowering the user; using more of what they have trying to find value in the investments they've made or is it something else? What advice would you give an organisation?

Andy Venter
For me, the first thing would be don't be afraid of new technologies. I think that's important, so don't be scared of adopting new technologies, but think about how you're adopting it. What we have seen when it comes to low code, for example, a lot of organisations have dived into the deep end, sometimes forced through, for example, COVID, etc, to go and apply some of the stuff. What they are finding though is that they didn't think about the best practice around how to do that stuff and so some of them have to unwind. So, it's great, you solved some problems, but now you need to go back and redo things. So sometimes that's going to happen, and that's okay. But if you can involve your suppliers, involve the providers out in the market, for example, the HSO’s, to give you advice in terms of what the right way is to adopt some of these technologies, this the other component that as well as that these technologies give you the opportunity to provide something back to the community as well. What I mean, when I say that, I always advise my customers that when you think about things like low code, automation, etc, where you can set up some apprenticeship programmes, bring some new skill into the organisation, because what's happening is we are finding skill gaps in public sector are a big thing. What, for example, COVID has done is that we talked about developers before. By creating hybrid working or remote working, a lot of Public Sector organisations have lost their key skills to the private sector and they're finding gaps. Now low code can help with that because you're empowering organisations but take the opportunity to bring new people into the workplace, skilling them up with the local college applications, for example, we know it's an easy skill set to learn for the right candidate. It gives something back to the community because it gives people opportunity, and it's good for the council's or the public sector organisations, because what it does, it fills a gap, and it gives them value very quickly.

Andy offers this advice: Don’t be afraid of adopting new technology.

He believes that by doing so, you will be better able to close the growing skills gap.

For example, low code technology makes it possible to create solutions without the need for developer level skill. You can now have more people skilled in solution development. It also reduces the cost of finding, hiring, and keeping expensive technical resources. And means you don’t need to bring in large costly bespoke solutions.

It also increases the value of embarking on apprenticeship type programmes because low code technology is easier to learn.

And on that note, thanks for listening, until next time, take care of yourselves.

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