Three tech trends shaping digital public services in 2024

The new annual digital trends survey from Socitm, the Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation, has predicted an unprecedented “pantheon of possibilities” for digital public services in 2024.

The research, which focuses on digital and technology trends expected to impact local public services, said 2024 is set to be “a defining moment” in the definition of digital public services, combining the potential of technology with the demand for redefined public sector purpose. 

Three areas in particular were identified as being set to play an increasingly significant role over the next year: AI, geospatial technologies and extended reality. 

AI leads the way 

The research named AI as the “stand out” trend this year, with the potential to impact a broad spectrum of public services. It said 2024 will start to see public service organisations using AI already embedded in existing applications and office tools, with the focus on it “becoming a partner rather than a de facto replacement.”  

Projects are emerging, but they tend to be in specific applications, such as health diagnostics and customer service. Recent examples include Derby City Council's phone-based AI assistance project and Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council's use of AI sensors to tackle congestion hotspot. 

Socitm emphasised that the majority of public service leaders will take a cautious approach to AI whilst they undertake basic preparations: data readiness, governance, skill building and assessment frameworks. As such, adoption may not be quite as fast as some expect. 

Connected places 

The report identified the growth of geospatial applications as a key trend in 2024. This includes technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and digital twins that allow public agencies to design virtual services that connect digital resources in more joined up ways. 

It also identified extended reality – or immersive experience – as an emerging trend offering public services new ways of engaging with citizens or testing the design of services. The report acknowledged that these will take time to develop and depend heavily on data readiness. 

Underpinning these two trends is a broader theme - a move beyond ‘smart cities’ towards whole system working and ‘connected places’. Socitm said a major shift for public service design in 2024 and beyond will be connecting data and services in new ways around citizen needs. 

Collaboration and leadership 

Collaboration will be imperative in redefining digitally-based service models in connected places moving forward. The report said public sector organisations that resist changing old ways will find it more difficult to solve their digital and service problems. 

‘Whole system’ working in connected places will depend on significant change to organisational structures and their governance. Socitm said this will require national and local leadership to work more closely together. 

"In the UK, in particular, the sector is in crisis,” said Martin Ferguson,martin-ferguson-E2F1FC Director of Policy and Research at Socitm. “Unlike the political choices in the ‘austerity years’, the on-going financial hardship local authorities face while trying to transform digital delivery means a radically different approach is needed. 

“The courage from political and executive leadership to take advantage of the new technological possibilities is essential if councils are to provide the services which improve people’s lives. This will only be realised if there is creativity, collaboration and vision across organisations and places which we cover in some detail throughout this report."

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