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KPMG Global Tech Report: Government and Public Sector Insights

Embracing emerging technology to create user-centric services and enhance citizen engagement

While government organizations have not typically been as quick as other sectors to exploit new technologies, a shift is underway. New research from KPMG signals that the government and public sector is acting to give constituents the digital upgrades they expect. This article explores the research and compares the priorities and environments of the government sector with those of other industries.

As governments are determined to harness rapidly evolving technology to improve the everyday lives of their constituents, a shortage of skills, complex manual processes and risk-averse working cultures are making it difficult for the public sector to keep up.

Based on a survey of 2,100 executives from 16 countries and across nine industries, the latest KPMG global tech report reveals the widespread recognition across sectors, including the government and public sector, of the potential benefits of embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based technology.

Customer-centricity burns bright within the government sector

This is being driven in response to citizens’ requirements from their elected representatives. The survey finds that the public sector is one of those most likely to launch digital transformation projects in response to customer feedback: 48 percent of government respondents say this was the main trigger for change, compared with 42 percent from other sectors.

According to Brenda Walker, Global Head of Government, KPMG International, this makes perfect sense. “The reason the government exists is to keep constituents safe and comfortable,” she says. “So it’s no surprise that they are driven by customer needs.”

Among government organizations in the research that plan to use technology to innovate, 66 percent say their tech function will primarily focus on designing a better user experience. Contrast that with the average of 54 percent across all sectors surveyed.

“Technology is moving faster than any of us have seen before,” says Walker. “And citizens expect the same level of support and engagement from their government as they experience with other industry sectors and online retailers.”

“When members of the public say, ‘There’s a dangerous pothole on my street,’ they want it fixed immediately. And they want to interact with government online and directly like they are able to do with other service industries for their personal use. Gone are the days when people were willing to take a service number, sit down and wait for their number to be called to obtain services. They want a digital experience that makes it easy and convenient for their busy lifestyles.”

Invest in skills and people, trust in new technology will likely follow

In embracing new technologies, government organizations are obligated to conduct thorough examinations of tech plans to help minimize the risk of new initiatives causing any harm to constituents. In some cases the good intentions behind this methodical approach can slow down progress. The research reveals that a risk-averse internal culture is one of the sector’s top digital transformation challenges: 69 percent of government respondents say that a lack of understanding or trust of new technologies makes them less confident about investing. National security concerns and the safety of sensitive data, meanwhile, present challenges that can deter governments from fully embracing cloud technology.

But Walker says the industry needs to balance this caution with agility to keep up with user expectations. “No longer can organizations plan technology upgrades for five years and then execute for another five years,” she says. “Because by the time they buy, procure and implement fully, the systems are outdated.”

The key to safely accelerating tech adoption lies in filling skill gaps — ensuring government workforces are digitally literate, by keeping up to date with fast moving technology trends and hiring the best talent from the tech sector to bring digital transformation plans to life. “Hiring needs to be faster and more flexible,” says Walker. “If a workforce struggles with digital literacy and lacks leadership, it’s hard for government organizations to [safely] lean into technology.”

The vast potential of artificial intelligence

Despite their cautious approach to technology, governments remain committed to unlocking the potential of emerging systems and platforms. In fact, governments clearly see AI and machine learning (ML) as critical to helping their workforces redesign services so they better meet user needs – 56 percent of government respondents said AI and ML will be the most important technologies for achieving their organization’s short-term ambitions.

Using AI and ML to automate arduous back-office processes can free up employees to focus on other critical tasks. And AI has the potential to improve citizens’ quality of life in myriad ways, from data analysis and fraud detection and prevention to medical research, emergency response, environmental monitoring and traffic management — even predictive policing.

“Generative AI is expected to be very positive for the industry’s growth,” says Walker. “Taking mundane tasks off of employees’ plates can allow government staff to focus on their core mission of making the world a better place.” And updating and integrating disparate legacy systems can allow governments to take full advantage of these technologies. “Automating bad data is going to give you a bad result,” she says. “So, data management and data quality are important. Data must be secure and integrated before you can start using the cloud and sophisticated systems such as AI and ML. This means a big change for government processes, systems, technology and people.”

Cloud supports automation and data exchange

Once data is moved to the cloud, governments can start experiencing the myriad benefits this model provides: disaster recovery, flexibility, greater speed of doing business and significant cost savings over the longer term. KPMG research found that 40 percent of government respondents consider public cloud systems as one of the most important technologies for their organization’s short-term ambitions, compared to 30 percent across all sectors surveyed. And where they're currently in use, public cloud systems have already enhanced citizen engagement – say 47 percent of government respondents.

Moving to the cloud saves time by automatically securing, refreshing and backing up data and keeping systems up to date. And according to the research, the government sector recognizes this: it plans to maximize the number of applications it migrates to the cloud.

And cloud systems can make a big difference to working environments, says Mehra. “The pandemic showed that remote working is a big advantage,” he says. “Another is data collaboration between agencies — the cloud makes it easy for them to exchange information and share applications, which allows governments to streamline costs.”

KPMG Powered Enterprise for Government and Public Sectori provides access to leading practices and processes on pre-configured market-leading cloud technologies to help senior public sector leaders navigate future challenges.

Security comes first

While a cautious culture might be slowing down investment, governments’ vigilance has given them a head start on cyber security. Of the government respondents surveyed, 46 percent say their organization is prioritizing cyber security and the ability to recover from an attack quickly and with minimal impact, compared with an average of 33 percent across all sectors surveyed. Most government and public sector respondents believe that their tech function is already playing an instrumental role in building resilience (90 percent) and meeting increasingly demanding regulations (87 percent).

“Governments are there to protect citizens, including their data and national security, so the stakes are high,” says Walker. “Their reputation is at risk: once a government loses data, it loses the trust of its citizens. They cannot afford to do that.”

According to Mehra, governments need to stay focused on updating their cyber security policies and adopt clear incident-response plans and zero trust models. “In a zero trust model, no actor or system can be trusted in any form,” he explains. “They require continuous monitoring, third-party risk management and cloud security. And with so many touchpoints where actors can access data, multifactor authentication becomes critical.”

Key takeaways

Government organizations want to embrace digital transformation for the good of their constituents. By hiring from and partnering with the tech sector, they can help ensure workforces are digitally literate and tech-savvy — balancing forward-thinking approaches while maintaining national security and zero trust as a priority. Meanwhile, a focus on data management can help unlock the true potential of technologies such as AI and cloud-based systems, allowing them to become governments of the future.

  • Prioritize agility: Government organizations should prioritize technology implementation by adopting shorter planning cycles, avoiding lengthy upgrade schedules. To address the pace of advancements and rising expectations, consider these tangible actions: streamline procurement processes, embrace iterative development with shorter implementation phases, and actively seek user feedback for continuous improvement.
  • Pilot: Start with small, thoughtful, incremental changes. Run a pilot project and build the essential foundations. Once the pilot is successfully competed and its value captured, it is time to scale the solution to the wider organization.ii
  • Invest in workforce: Governments should invest in training programs to enhance workforce skills and promote adaptability. Additionally, enhanced recruiting programs can help attract sought-after resources and enable the public sector to compete for technology talent. This proactive approach can accelerate organizational agility and enhance responsiveness to constituent needs.
  • Lean on partnerships with industry: Establish partnerships with private technology companies for digital transformation. Begin with pilot projects to assess technology potential before making significant investments. Once successful strategies are identified, governments can confidently scale their initiatives.
  • Never trust, always verify: Adopt zero trust models for cybersecurity, emphasizing continuous monitoring, third-party risk management, and cloud security. In this model, no actor or system is inherently trusted, making multifactor authentication critical due to numerous touchpoints where data access can occur.

How KPMG professionals can help

Transformation never stops. Neither do we.

KPMG professionals from national firms around the world have deep experience in technology-enabled transformation. At KPMG, we believe that successful transformation requires integrating the right technology, optimized processes, and people at its core. Our award-winningiii,iv,v transformation, innovation, and deep industry experience and knowledge positions KPMG professionals to address market challenges and provide in-depth industry perspectives. Our global government practice helps government and public sector organizations worldwide to realize the full potential of their people and technology and achieve tangible outcomes for both their organizations and constituents. KPMG firms’ approach to digitalization is summed up in what is referred to as the Connected. Powered. Trusted. framework. vi Our teams harness technology to enhance the capabilities of government organizations. This includes leveraging market-leading cloud technologies, being a leader in AI and employing a strong network of alliances with some of the world’s leading technology, data and services companies.

Get in touch to learn more about how we can support transformation in your organization.
KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing audit, tax, and advisory services. We operate in 155 countries and have more than 158,000 people working in member firms around the world.