Disruptive Technologies – Solving Tomorrow’s Public Sector Challenges

Digitisation is not only changing the face of business with new and disruptive business models but is also offering completely new perspectives on enhancing government services.

The Cordence Worldwide (CWW) network, of which North Highland is a proud member, met in 2018 to bring together our global knowledge and experience in the public sector and to develop ideas on the future of government services. Our very own Mark Dunwell was asked about disruptive technologies in public sector – here’s what he had to say.

Q: Disruptive technologies - what are they and why is everyone talking them?

A: Disruptive technologies traditionally refer to less established IT market entrants with a cheaper price point. However, increasingly it is used to describe internet-era tools with the potential to change the way that internal and external services are delivered to stay ahead. As governments globally are having to match higher consumer expectations and deliver within tighter budgetary constraints, these new solutions can increase back office efficiency, support the delivery of better frontline services and enhance real-time information for decision-making.

Q: In what ways have governments globally been introducing new digital tools and approaches to drive great outcomes for citizens today?


  • Last year, the UK government set out its ambition to explore using algorithms in decision-making. This boasts everything from “data trusts” - agreements held between different parties to make data sharing safe and secure - to using machine algorithms to review massive data sets for inconsistencies in frontline service delivery. This initiative mirrors exciting examples of public sector innovation taking place around the world.

  • Singapore has committed to using artificial intelligence (AI) for anticipating traffic and security incidents, to drive operational efficiency and make the city more intelligent

  • Estonia has implemented real-time information sharing for data registries across national health, judicial and legislative systems using blockchain technologies

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has driven significant efficiency gains in repeatable back office processes (finance and HR) and highly standardised tasks within the British Council’s Noida shared services centre

  • Milton Keynes has tackled an expected population increase of 20% to 300,000 by becoming the UK’s first truly “Smart City” using sensor data for recycling collection to improve citizen services.


The common thread throughout these international case studies of early stage disruption in action relate to their scalability. Each example reflects a small step on the journey towards Government as a Platform - fully integrated, end-to-end citizen services - which tend to be the exception, rather than the rule today.

Q: Over the next five years, which two disruptive technologies pose the largest opportunity for public sector services to drive increased efficiency, productivity and value for citizens?

A: Effective integration of data at scale will reduce pressure on citizen services and deliver better user experiences.

Transport for London enriches contactless payment transaction data with systemic information on footfall - from bridge crossings to proactively advising bus and train travellers of alternative routes during such times as planned maintenance or station closures.

The Australian Government also launched an opt-out secure online health information summary - My Health Record - to provide all citizens with a one-stop shop for patient data; merging vital medicinal and allergen information into one place.

Both examples demonstrate the value of investing time upfront to strategically agree which data sets are needed across multiple organisations to future proof service design.

Q: What are the biggest barriers to successfully adopting new technologies across local & central government today?

A: One immediate challenge is a greater reliance on those who “get it” as there is a need for organisations to build digital into their DNA. Bringing in those with experience of exploiting new technologies and managing to build blended delivery teams around a common goal is critical.

A large part of this will also depend upon having a sustainable talent pipeline, both at junior and senior levels, to support innovation and continuous improvement.

Adopting a human-centred approach throughout the design and implementation of disruptive technologies is the third biggest challenge. Putting real people at the heart of any service design or working to understand how best user needs can be addressed will produce more sustainable, better services.

Importantly, new developments in AI mean that having a healthy bias towards humans when anything is designed and deployed will ensure that there is a strong ethical framework in place.

Q: What are the top two trends, which have the biggest potential to change the way citizen-facing services are delivered?

A: The Internet of Things (IoT) and a fundamental cultural shift in the way that internet-era organisations adopt leading edge technologies will together create tailored user experiences that reshape the nature of interactions between government and its citizens.

The widespread adoption of wearable technology will provide digital institutions with a completely new rich set of data to “colour in” their portrait of who you are as an individual. Microsoft’s HealthVault gives users the choice to share their fitness data with doctors, providing a more complete view of a patient’s overall health and wellbeing than might otherwise be achieved from a more traditional consultation. When you take the very real cost of misdiagnosis to individuals, having an increasingly connected set of services underpinned by a greater instance of networked devices continually exchanging data, the value to taxpayers is huge.

Mindsets towards adopting new ways of working will also need to shift as the usage of conversational user interfaces have been predicted to be no more than ten years away. Bots triaging call data, leading to better customer services represent the most common part of the puzzle, which organisations typically focus on. However, the fundamental scaffolding - internal processes and people - that support continual releases alongside development and operations being more culturally and organisationally aligned (DevOps) also need to be considered. Embedding a “pilot and learn” approach by default in the creation of new services is most crucial overall.

In case you missed it, the first in our ‘Digital Future of Government Services’ series, in which North Highland’s Andrew Pennycuick and Craig Spence were asked about the citizen journey of the future, can be found here.

For more on North Highland’s public sector expertise, click here.