The public sector is embarking on a journey into the digital era, and real estate will play a key role in meeting some of the challenges along the way
The Ascent of Digital is a major new piece of research in which we surveyed some 400 public sector leaders to understand their stage of digital evolution: to what extent have public bodies adopted digital processes and operating models. Covering central government, local government, police forces, the NHS, further and higher education, these fascinating findings show how the country's largest employer is already taking steps to reap the rewards of a more digitally focussed strategy. The survey demonstrates a clear appetite for digital, but implementation is going to be arduous, to say the least!
For a start, only 26% of respondents say their organisation has the right skills to execute their digital strategy. In fact, almost all say that workforce issues are amongst the most difficult aspects of their digital transformation to manage, and changing culture is particularly hard. Adding to the challenge, public bodies often have rigid ways of working. There may be historical restrictions in policies, procedures and contracts that make cultural shifts even trickier.
Delving deeper into the research, it's not hard to draw the conclusion that one of the main challenges here is about people, and how we adapt to change – and if you agree with that, it's easy to see that many of the issues in the report are ones that the private sector is grappling with too.
So how has the private sector responded? Championed by the technology sector itself, one concept that forward-looking businesses have wholeheartedly grasped is the need for flexible workspaces that enable a variety of ways of working, including opportunities for collaboration – something the report identifies as vitally important for the public sector's digital transformation. For these businesses, the right space can increase productivity, help create a more enjoyable working environment, and importantly, act as a draw for the best talent.
For the private sector, the move to a more flexible working environment is less overtly about the need to adopt a digital strategy, but digital is certainly a major influencing factor: being able to work from a variety of locations, for example, only really makes sense if your organisation provides the right mobile technology to do so. But, before jumping to the assumption that the private sector is making all the running, it is well worth reading the report's section on culture, which explains how one London council is using its office space to help meet its digital ambitions.
Ultimately, for large organisations of any type, decisions around technology, people and the buildings they jointly inhabit are increasingly intertwined. That is no different for the public sector. We have already seen significant changes to the amount of space used by the public sector – for example, our recent London Business Footprint research highlights the dramatic reduction in its usage of London office space – and cost reduction targets mean that further reductions in overall space are highly likely in coming years. The path to adopting a digital strategy has implications for the way the public sector's space might best be used. The right real estate alone won't be enough to see the public sector through the challenges of digital adoption, but it will be an important part of the solution.
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