Public sector tech in 2021: Three key trends

In this article, Sascha Giese highlights the trends that are likely to shape the public sector in 2021

For public sector technology professionals and users alike, 2020 was a year unlike any other. We addressed unprecedented challenges and pressures with an outstanding collective effort to keep the wheels of IT turning and vital services running. But as 2021 gets well underway and the prospect of post-pandemic recovery edges nearer, what will be the technology trends most likely to occupy the attention of public sector IT leaders and their teams? Here are three trends to follow:

IT will do more with less
According to Gartner, the abatement of revenue uncertainty in late 2020 will allow for the resurgence of more predictable IT spending, but social distancing will continue through 2021, capping office capacity at 40 per cent. Spending in the public sector is likely to be even more strict and may decrease, and IT teams will need to be even more creative with how they’re spending their money. Though organisations don’t need to put digital transformation on pause, there will be pressure for them to do more with less, leading them to focus on strengthening the tech already in place to optimise efficiency. As a side effect, we’ll see further accelerated growth in cloud adoption in organisations across the public sector.

The pandemic has highlighted how the public sector can be better prepared for events like this. For example, only six per cent of IT leaders in central government departments in Europe say they were extremely ready for the pandemic. As we continue adapting to the new normal, tech priorities will be shuffled around until we find the right balance. When it comes to network management, for example, the systems and infrastructure once critical for operations are now secondary, while parts of the network once viewed as 'nice to have' (e.g., client VPN connections for every employee) are now more than mission-critical—they’re the essential tools of the organisations keeping our public services open 24/7.

'Automation anxiety' will end
This year, we’ll begin to see a reversal in the collective 'automation anxiety' seen across the public and private sectors. With tightening budgets and other pandemic-induced operational challenges, public sector organisations and tech teams will have no choice but to fully embrace automation to optimise environments and reduce the time spent on monotonous tasks. This will include automating time-consuming jobs like workstation patching, configuration changes for network devices, compliance checks and remediation, server patching, and more.

This shift to automation will help reduce toil, improve processes, and prevent burnout—three scourges resulting from Covid-19. It’ll also have a significant impact on the day-to-day role of tech pros. The extra time they’ll finally have will allow them to learn more skills and focus more on their career path.

One area primed for greater automation is the IT help desk. As monitoring and service desk integrations become more prevalent, public sector tech pros will start the process of automating ticket assignments, asset updates, configuration management database (CMDB) updates, updates to customers, and more. This will not only keep monitoring and service desk systems and teams in sync but take menial tasks and delays out of the equation, allowing teams to resolve common issues faster and saving the business time and money.

Today’s tech will be optimised for future success
Public sector organisations will continue to employ the lessons they learned in 2020, investing in architectural agility up and down the stack. The adoption of new initiatives will be lower on the list of leadership priorities, so internal innovation will be key in maintaining distributed workforces.  

As a result, keeping organisations functioning and connected—both in terms of technology and emotional engagement and enthusiasm—during the ongoing economic downturn and recovery will require IT teams to focus on existing technologies and strengthen the skills required to keep them running optimally.

Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened. The technology we use to monitor and manage when it comes to networking has been more or less the same for over a decade. What’s changed has been the sophistication of implementing and managing those techniques along with the speed and variety of visualisations based on data collected. More recently, automated network monitoring and management tools are now expanding to help network engineers create, manage, and monitor the scripts and tools used to create them, incorporating the aspects of integrated development environments (IDEs) programmers have come to love and rely on. We’ll see these trends continue in the future.  

This year will, no doubt, bring its own collection of tech challenges, but with the experiences of 2020 to draw on, public sector IT leaders and their teams are arguably better equipped to meet unexpected issues head-on. With an eventual, gradual relaxation of pandemic restrictions, technology strategy can once again focus on major strategic priorities for the short and long term alike.

Sascha Giese is Head Geek™ at SolarWinds.