With the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic raging globally, public sectors are the evolving to embrace a new normal of ‘live, learn, work and play.’ As the outbreak continues to devastate health and socioeconomic ecosystems regionally, Asia Pacific countries are notably fully engaged in containing the spread. In the absence of proven medical cure or vaccine, COVID19 is proving to be a test of long-term resilience for nations and cities worldwide.

In fact, public sector decision makers should not waste the transformative opportunities brought about by global socioeconomic adversities. Instead they should break the mold and target stimulus monies on new technological innovations, productivity and value-creation tools, as well as built up manpower competencies in newly desired digital organisations, workspaces, supply chains, and operations- all that will contribute to a faster-paced fiscal recovery post-COVID-19.

Our research at IDC forecasted that public sectors will have a busy 2020 with a new range of IT skills to master- ranging from ways to implement 5G, making blockchain a part of public sector transaction processes, defending against intrusions into digital trust, and understanding (and also limiting) how AI is used inside the enterprise. COVID-19 has further accelerated these predictions.

Remote care services

A renewed and urgent focus on deploying telehealth initiatives as patients, doctors, pharmacy stores and delivery networks, payment systems, etc. all rely now on a connected digital healthcare platform to dispense contactless medical services. Accessibility will be the first phase. Once that is achieved, customer experience best practices will be adopted for each stakeholder of the health value-chain. Care must be taken to ensure the digitally displaced are not excluded from essential care services

Distance learning options

Tertiary institutions, and k-12 Government schools are forced today to move digital learning content online as nations go into lockdown and campuses shut down. This provides administrators and teaching staff the opportunity to deploy their ‘learning anywhere, anytime’ pilots into full production ecosystems, testing out the full viability of student administration and learning management systems. Care must be taken to ensure the digitally displaced are not excluded from essential education services, especially at k-12 or compulsory education levels

Automation of essential services

Critical infrastructure services in transportation (e.g. autonomous bus/trains/cars/boats), public safety (e.g. CCTV, police droids), utilities (e.g. digital metering, smart homes), water and waste management (e.g. smart pipes), healthcare (e.g. drones and robots to disinfect hospitals) will see a stronger growth in automation investments via technologies such as IoT, AI, Robotics, Drones, etc.

New lifelong-learning attitudes

Transferable skills will be redeployed to address skills shortages (i.e. non-essential workers training on-the-job and taking on essential worker roles in healthcare, city services, public sector administrators, etc.). Increasingly, as automation becomes more widespread, industries like healthcare, education, retail, manufacturing will require new skills and talent development and redeployment

Ethical analytics and blockchain Use

Governments globally are constantly facing pressures for increased accountability, transparency, and improved performance. Public policies and engagement initiatives around the ethics of AI use will be a sustained and enduring conversation for public sector organisations in the transformation of their services to digital ecosystems. More investments to develop capabilities to address ‘fact checking’ concerns around social engineering, social deception and fake news will grow. IDC predicts that from birth certificates to driver’s licenses to passports and beyond, by 2023, 20% of governments will issue blockchain-enabled identities, which follow citizens through life and enable benefits access

Value-based procurement

An outcomes-based approach to procuring technologies will increasingly be practiced. No long will this be solely led by IT decision makers, but also, Line-of-Business decision makers. Value-based procurement focuses on procurement techniques and procurement payment milestones based the outcomes achieved (e.g. a decrease in citizen waiting times at an immigrations passport collection service, or an increase in patient satisfaction rates at hospitals, etc.), as compared to the traditional technical system deliveries and hand-overs. Technology providers will increasingly be expected to solve public sector outcomes, rather than just delivering systems. Having a strong set of use cases, KPIs, and SLAs is the first step towards a strategic plan. The next step in execution and maintenance will be the determining factor of a provider’s capabilities to provide end-to-end usable solutions

COVID-19 has brought to light the plight of digitally displaced populations across trans-national boundaries and local communities in the Asia Pacific. While nations clamber to raise stimulus funds for vulnerable communities, and mend public sector accessibility chasms in digital government services such as telemedicine, remote learning, contact-less essential services, and more, a new normal has taken shape.

Traditional bureaucratic public policies, mindsets and work ecosystems are expected to be tested against the practicality and applicability of today’s COVID-19 ‘safe distancing’ contexts. IDC expects more agile, intuitive, and outcomes-based investments will be made by Asia Pacific public sectors- all within controlled international compliance and national security boundaries, of course.

Gerald Wang is the Head of IDC Asia Pacific Public Sector for IDC Government Insights and IDC Health Insights. In this role, Gerald draws on more than 15 years of research and industry experiences in enterprise IT market research, agile change management and innovation-based consultancy, as well as public speaking experiences across several public sector events. His specialties include managing digital government research and strategy advisories, driving industry-partnerships and knowledge ecosystems, as well as advocating for digital transformation innovations.