What is the purpose of your organisation? It may sound like an easy question, but the answer can say a lot about how you work. From the outside looking in, you may say that the purpose of SAP is to provide software and services to help organisations manage their business processes. But we don’t see it that way, we believe our purpose is to ‘improve lives and help the world run better.’
That informs the way we approach our customers’ needs. Rather than first asking how an organisation can use our products, we ask: ‘How can we help this organisation succeed? How can we help it achieve its purpose? How can we help it run better and how can our software and services improve the lives of its employees, customers and stakeholders?’
The purpose of the UK public sector is to provide the public services that benefit all citizens and to manage these, day to day. Yet many organisations within the public sector can’t do this as efficiently as they should, because they don’t have a full view of their data assets, business processes or their end users – us citizens. They may not have the skills, tools or permission to access and interpret data that could help them achieve their purpose more effectively.
This is a big reason why the Government announced its Shared Services Strategy in 2021. The strategy has three key objectives: One, to provide a better user experience with systems that are
intuitive, easy to use, and mobile-enabled. Two, to achieve greater efficiency and value for money through better systems and services, which support productivity and reduce costs. And three, to standardise processes and data to support interoperability, making it easier to understand and compare corporate data.
It’s that third objective that interests me the most… how SAP, with its nearly 50-year history in the public sector, can help the UK Government use data to better serve citizens. In this article, I’ll look at three of the main hurdles standing in the way of the public sector achieving its purpose and how they can be overcome.
- Inconsistent data architecture
In 2013, the government announced its cloud-first policy, which led to the transition of most front-facing, citizen-centric services to the cloud. However, many back-office systems were left untouched, never upgraded or moved to the cloud. Those organisations are still working with this aged, on-premise software. It’s no surprise, then, that the old technology can’t manage or keep pace with the data and processing power of the front-end cloud-based systems.
As an example, I was recently speaking with a customer who couldn’t understand why her department’s HR software wouldn’t work properly on a new iPad. I had to explain that iPads were first launched in 2010 and that her new device was the latest 9th generation of the iPad, whilst her HR software dated back to 2005! No wonder that these older, legacy IT systems can’t perform tasks that our own smartphones could easily manage. They were implemented before much of today’s technology even existed, and never changed.
The solution: The Shared Services Strategy will ensure that nearly all departments in the public sector make their own cloud journeys soon, enabling them to share data across departments. With solutions like SAP’s Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP), government organisations can bring together next generation, modular cloud business applications (e.g. software for finance, human experience management, procurement and supply chain, etc) with database and data management, analytics, and integration. They will also be able to extend the capabilities of these business applications to meet their individual department needs, within one platform for both cloud and hybrid environments. This includes hundreds of pre-built integrations for SAP and third-party applications like Oracle, ServiceNow, Microsoft, SalesForce, Pega etc.
- Lack of internal resources
The technology skills gap is as real a challenge for the government as it is for the private sector. According to a recent report, 66% of digital leaders in Britain say that a lack of talent is primarily responsible for slower digital transformation in their organisations. The government simply can’t find employees with the skills or training needed to implement new technology systems fast enough. New technology systems are needed to remove the significant technical debt that exists across the government, which in turn makes the challenge of leveraging data a real blocker. The government relies on bringing in external resources to implement new technology systems, but as a by-product of the skills shortage, vendors are forced to pay more for talent and must pass the additional cost on to the organisation. The longer it takes to see the benefit of the solution, the harder it is for organisations to justify the expense.
The solution: The key to mitigating this problem is to speed up the time it takes for an organisation to recognise the value it is gaining from new technology. In this way, the organisation can validate its investment much more quickly. The SAP Activate Methodology enables the organisation to benefit from reduced time to value. This modular, cloud and agile focused framework supplies project teams with detailed steps to be delivered in each phase throughout the project, provides accelerators which makes work easier to accomplish, and clear workstreams which span across various phases.
Combining SAP Activate Methodology with SAP’s next generation, modular cloud ERP business applications, means that organisations can ‘Start Anywhere, Go Everywhere’. What this means is that you can deploy and consume the cloud technologies that are most pressing for your business needs and thereby reduce your upfront costs and realise value quicker. For example, think about being able to deploy and consume a next generation cloud Human Experience Management solution within 6 months, without having to wait for a programme plan for a monolithic and complex ERP solution. SAP’s unique modular approach means the organisation can start experiencing real value much sooner.
- Overcoming the complexity
Replacing one technology platform with another is not always a simple ‘rip and replace’ solution. The systems currently in use by the public sector have been customised and modified over time to meet the very specific needs of each department, with workarounds implemented along the way. It has seemed easier to repeatedly put sticking plaster on what’s wrong than to attempt end to end business transformation. However, GSS has confirmed that we’re at a stage where we have too many sticking plasters and we need to tackle the issue from the ground up.
The complexity can be daunting. For example, the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been told to urgently review its IT strategy, as it was revealed that outdated systems can be held responsible for historic underpayments of over £1 billion. The Pension Service Computer System, introduced in 1988, has not subsequently been updated but instead run alongside new systems that together manage millions of records, and now will be incredibly complex and risky to update.
The solution: Organisations need both expert guidance and a holistic, collaborative approach to simplification. SAP’s business process intelligence (BPI) solutions provide end-to-end capabilities for strategic process transformation, while supporting business users in the change to new systems and processes. By truly understanding their end-to-end business processes, organisations can benchmark and simulate processes for alternative business scenarios. This helps them surface their current data challenges and needs whilst prioritising opportunities for automation. In addition, SAP’s Signavio’s collaboration hub can support in building a single source of truth across teams and break down data silos.
The solutions that underpin all these challenges rely on a focus on outcomes. Data and systems can feel far removed from achieving purpose, but it is in the intersections of data that we can identify ways to better serve an organisation, its employees and citizens. In my next article I’ll look to some of the transformations we’ve supported in the past, to show how our Shared Services Strategy can move organisations from process to purpose, while absorbing some of the risk in replacing outdated technology.
Satpal Biant, Head of Public Sector, UK & Ireland