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Unlocking the future of digital public services in Northern Ireland

  • By George Maybury, Public Sector Director, Dell Technologies Ireland & Northern Ireland.

    The world around us continues to evolve with artificial intelligence (AI), Cloud, 5G, data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) improving how we communicate and exchange information. Increased digitisation and the growing interconnectedness of people, organisations, and machines is already having a profound impact on the economy in Northern Ireland.

    Public sector organisations across the region are recognising the opportunities breakthrough technologies can unlock for the benefit of our economy and society. Increasingly, public policy is emphasising the role of digital in scaling up SMEs, advancing sustainability and engaging with citizens in new ways. 

    At present over 85% of the Northern Ireland public have access to the internet and the Digital Transformation Service aims is to increase this each year to ensure everyone can access online government services. There is a growing recognition within the public sector that this growth will be driven by the increasing adoption of cloud computing, big data analytics, and the evolution of 5G edge computing.

    But what are the building blocks that could help support these efforts and need to be put in place to ensure digital transformation is at the heart of public services in Northern Ireland?

    Generate value through digital transformation

    As governments in the UK and Northern Ireland continue their digital transformation journey, there are a handful of practical focus areas they can keep front of mind to help them on this journey.  

    One is the development of a hybrid workforce within the public sector which has responsive, on-demand, robust IT services that underpin a positive work environment and collaboration between agencies. This can also involve creating a mix of mobile and office-based workers so that civil and public servants are able to work productively from anywhere.

    Making better use of data assets can also spur innovation. All too often data is not harnessed to give policymakers insights into the changing needs of citizens. For example, purpose-designed data storage and processing provide an opportunity to simplify and secure data management within our healthcare system and help healthcare professionals to make better decisions for their patients.

    Security and trust to unlock true digitalisation

    Another key building block is security and trust. Organisations in both the private and public sectors in Northern Ireland are facing ever-evolving threats that are putting vital services at risk for citizens and businesses.

    Digitalisation provides citizens with ease of access to public data and services, but trust in the security of IT solutions is vital. This is why placing this critical data in a vault will help ensure it is isolated, can’t be modified and can be quickly recovered in the event of an attack – enabling services to get up and running quickly again.

    Through our advisory services and security solutions, our team at Dell Technologies are supporting public sector organisations across Northern Ireland to tackle their toughest security challenges and enhance their cyber resilience. From our updated Managed Detection and Response Pro Plus to a new cloud-based version of the Secured Component Verification, we are developing solutions to help public services providers safeguard user identities, data, and systems, and recover quickly from cyber-attacks.

    Digital transformation in action 

    One of the key benefits of technology in the public sector is the ability to deliver improved citizen services. There are more and more examples of organisations and technologists in Northern Ireland coming together to provide online access to government services, such as renewing driver's licenses and paying taxes. This not only makes it easier for citizens to access services but also reduces travel costs and commuting time to government offices.

    There are strong examples of digital government such as the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD). The Deal represents a new way of working between central and local government and regional partners and secures a bespoke package of investment from the central government and the BRCD partners of more than £850 million. As part of this vision, Ulster University and Dell Technologies signed a Collaboration Agreement with both organisations working together to develop emerging technology that will advance research in digital health and drive innovation in virtual film production.

    In the education field, the growing collaboration between third-level institutes and businesses is delivering measurable results for researchers. Through its partnership with Dell,  34,000 students, teachers and support staff at Ulster University are also seeing the benefit of digital transformation and benefitting from a consistent teaching and learning experience powered by technology. 

    Looking ahead, new technologies that were once only a concept are now coming to life. Take the potential for Digital Twin technology. A digital twin is the digital copy of an asset. By running simulations on this digital asset, IT scientists and researchers can study it and predict real-world outcomes based on changes in its digital operating conditions. This innovation is enabling healthcare institutions to meet pressing challenges, from personalising healthcare to combatting patient wait times.

    Preparing for the future

    Winning in the digital economy requires a combination of technical understanding, pioneering leadership, and a sense of vision and determination to encourage an ecosystem of innovation. Government leaders in Northern Ireland who engage with these possibilities today can shape the digital economies of tomorrow.

    By putting digital transformation at the heart of public service, Northern Ireland can lead the way in securing a viable future for citizens while raising their national competitiveness on the global stage.

    This digital transformation agenda represents concrete efforts towards unlocking Northern Ireland’s potential to radically improve healthcare, education, public services, among others, all with a view to making a positive contribution to society and building a more positive future.  

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