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The digital revolution is here – but the journey to transformation isn’t always straight forward, particularly in the UK public sector. With many priorities to consider, organisations must look to digital transformation to reduce cost, increase multi-authority collaboration, improve public services, tighten security, consolidate silos and systems, automate processes, and deliver real business value. This can all be achieved through a robust digital transformation programme – however, there are a handful of significant challenges to overcome before these outcomes can be realised.

One key challenge that isn’t unique to the public sector but is more pronounced across all organisations is data. Data is diverse, distributed and dense, making it harder to understand and manage. Traditional storage and data management tools typically used by public sector organisations weren’t built with artificial intelligence (AI) technology in mind, so legacy infrastructure often acts as an expensive barrier to digital transformation.

There is also the challenge of keeping on top of governance and compliance requirements that are continually growing and evolving. Transforming data into value can be slow, manual and difficult to repeat. This is a common challenge for IT decision makers in the public sector who are under pressure to cut costs and demonstrate return on investment and business improvement quickly. Meanwhile, the public sector has a higher volume of analogue skill sets and digital needs, which poses a significant challenge to digital transformation.

Perhaps the number one priority for UK public sector organisations is secure multi-authority collaboration: the sharing of data to better deliver effective services, improve user experience, and enable self-service offerings. Public sector workers are regularly engaging with counterparts from local authorities, other agencies and private sector partners. However, many are still working in informational silos, without access to a shared IT system, making it difficult to collaborate across agencies.

Collaborating in 2020

A new study from collaboration specialist Huddle, comprising interviews with more than 600 government and public sector employees across the UK, discovered workers find themselves overwhelmed by the complexity of apps and services available to them, confused by IT security policies, and are often unclear as to how Government Security Classifications relate to their projects.

Public sector organisations have witnessed seismic changes to the way they work since the publication of a Home Office report on it in 2013; ‘Multi-Agency Working and Information Sharing Project’. Today’s work is not confined to organisational borders. In fact, 55% of respondents routinely share files and collaborate with stakeholders outside of their organisation. However, despite the changes to who we need to work with, the most prevalent tool for how files are shared remains familiar: email. This is trailed by organisations using their own file sharing system (26%), document management platforms (24%), Microsoft SharePoint (17%), and Enterprise Messaging apps (12%).

Despite efforts to improve the way these organisations collaborate, common pain points remain. The availability of more and more apps and services to support collaborative use cases is overwhelmingly positive. However, there is a potential concern that IT leaders should familiarise themselves with; too much choice can lead to complexity and confusion for their end users. As a result of using different apps to store and share information, 50% of senior executives are spending anything up to 30 minutes each day simply searching for, saving and sharing files, and 25% of them admit to never being sure where to save their files (a challenge shared by 21% of the entire base of respondents).

Through any period of digital transformation, it’s important that adequate training is given to users. This can assist in overcoming many of the common complaints highlighted by this survey. Most notably the 8% that feel that the apps they have access to are too complex, the 21% that are not sure which app to use, under which circumstance, and even the 19% that feel IT security policies make it too restrictive to work externally. Unfortunately, IT training remains a weak point across many government and public sector organisations. Just 17% felt they have been adequately trained, and that the training materials they have access to are completely sufficient. Over a quarter (29%) feel that training was not at all, or not very, sufficient, and the remaining 55% feel it was only somewhat sufficient.

Training should include not just the functional aspects of the tools, but also how existing IT policies apply to them. Today, security training appears to be routine, with only 7% unsure if a security policy even exists within their organisation. However, whether the available security policy is understood is questionable – more than a quarter (28%) said that despite being aware of an existing security policy, they are unsure how it relates to their role.

A Success Story – National Physical Laboratory (NPL)

In today’s rapidly evolving business climate, critical organisational and financial needs mean pressure to quickly find the best – and most affordable – solution to any given problem. Over time, this can leave you with a complex and disparate IT model – not to mention a stream of new data pouring in from applications and databases, private and public clouds, third-party apps and at the edge. But when your data is spread across systems and technologies, how can you keep it both secure and accessible?

Hitachi Vantara is well versed in coming to grips with IT complexity and with their Hitachi Content Platform (HCP) portfolio and offers a holistic approach to improving cross-authority collaboration. For example, when the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) needed a solution to better manage rapidly growing volumes of scientific data, Hitachi delivered a secure, accessible storage on a scalable cost model.

The NPL leads ground-breaking research that helps to shape the development of new products, processes and practices that enrich our daily lives. Hitachi helped the NPL in the UK to develop a smart approach to sharing, syncing and retrieving data, and collaborating with hundreds of other scientific organisations across the globe.

The NPL needed to be able to protect and manage vast amounts of information to support research initiatives. If there was an issue with data integrity or availability, it could have a massive impact on the quality and continuity of scientific research. NPL’s existing storage infrastructure relied on time-consuming tape backups, which took one member of the team a whole day every week to administer.

A smarter approach for sharing, syncing and retrieving data was essential for supporting NPL’s role in the five-year project funded through Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenges scheme. The initiative involves mapping tumour tissues at a molecular level to build the most detailed ever picture of the disease. NPL has partnered with Hitachi Vantara for 10 years to maximise the reliability and scalability of its storage infrastructure, and to help the organisation migrate from tape-based backups that were time-consuming and complex to a modern object storage solution.

With object storage on HCP, NPL can take a hybrid approach to storage: it provides the options to store historical scientific files hosted in the cloud for long-term retention and to store active research project data locally. HCP makes the cloud-based data searchable and accessible by users both inside and outside of the organization. NPL also uses HCP’s data migrator software to ingest data from its partner organisations and to upload granular metadata, which is essential in the scientific sector.

By partnering with Hitachi Vantara, the organisation has established a future-proofed storage infrastructure that can scale to meet growing data capacity and availability needs. The on-demand utilisation model will help to prevent overheads from escalating as lab instruments continue to generate more and more data. NPL can also deliver a great user experience to scientists around the world. With object storage on HCP, NPL can take a hybrid approach to storage: it provides the options to store historical scientific files hosted in the cloud for long-term retention and to store active research project data locally.

“Collaboration in the scientific community is huge. With Hitachi Vantara, we can offer a secure data repository for authorised people to access regardless of their location or their device,” says Science Support Leader for the IT Services Unit at NPL, Nigel Budd. The new solution will also be critical to ensuring the success of the Cancer Research U.K. Grand Challenge project that NPL is participating in. “By simplifying collaboration and information-sharing with Hitachi Vantara solutions, NPL can ensure that research teams are free to focus their efforts on building ground-breaking tumour maps that will ultimately transform patient care and outcomes,” adds Budd.

The HCP portfolio encompasses a tightly integrated and intelligent software-defined architecture that makes an ideal foundation for public sector organisations. HCP is object-storage software that unifies data so you can organise, preserve and search vast content repositories while delivering differentiated cloud-storage services. IT teams can enable employees to work anywhere with HCP Anywhere, Hitachi’s enterprise file sync and share with secure, continuous data access. Teams can also provide file service at remote sites with HCP Anywhere edge file share and engage Hitachi Content Intelligence (HCI) to automate policy-based data exploration and analytics.

For more information on Hitachi Vantara products and services please contact your local SCC representative or email us at online@scc.com.

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