A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a very cool virtual event. Accenture’s Workday Higher Education Forum brought together many of our higher education clients from 26 countries. We discussed the education technology landscape as well as different approaches to the journey to cloud. It was fascinating to see how the same trends resonated regardless of the size or location of the institution.

Inspired by an aha moment

I always appreciate the fresh perspectives that come from stepping away from the typical day to day. In this case, it led to an aha moment for me.

The discussion during the Forum got me thinking not just about the higher education landscape, but also about public service organizations more broadly. Since the pandemic began, I’ve seen headline after headline—I’ve even generated some of them myself as part of this blog series—about how this crisis is a moment of truth. A point of no return for public service organizations.

For months, everyone has been saying that there’s no going back to how things were before the pandemic. While I absolutely agree with this view, it’s been difficult to define clearly and thoughtfully what this means with specifics. How exactly has the pandemic changed public service? What do the changes mean for institutions, organizations and those they serve going forward?

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Here’s where my aha moment comes in—with three things I know are true about public service today.

1. Public service agencies have permission to change

There are so many stereotypes about public service organizations. One common one is that they are risk averse and that change does not come easily. For those of us who have worked in and around the public service, we know there is some degree of truth to this perception.

At least there was before the pandemic.

Today’s public service has been given permission to change. Some might argue that this permission was forced due to the uncharted circumstances of the crisis. Regardless, it’s a radical departure from both business and cultural perspectives. It’s permission that did not exist before the pandemic and is fundamentally different than any other tipping-point moment I’ve seen in my career in this space.

Politics and posturing, budgets and cost pressures, citizen expectations and ingrained ways aside, all eyes are on public service and higher education institutions to think and act differently. As the old saying goes, it’s time to be like a flower that survives the rain and uses the storm to grow and bloom.

2. Data fuels the agility to change in public service

The permission to change doesn’t come without stipulations. It must happen fast compared to the typical speed of change in higher education and public service organizations. The reality is that the ten-year modernization journey is a dinosaur that stakeholders simply will not tolerate any longer.

Data insight is non-negotiable for realizing change at speed. It fuels everyday decisions, and it also creates the “why” behind every element of every strategic plan. Without it, planning is an exercise in bumbling around in the dark, especially considering how fast things are moving today.

The public service leaders I speak to are under no illusion about how important data is today. Most are struggling with the myriad challenges of optimizing value from trusted data. To move past them, many are adopting cloud—57% of public service executives believe that accelerating cloud is business-critical.

This is an important recognition, but for a change-ready, fast-twitch future, public service organizations must go beyond simply migrating to cloud. Migration is just the beginning of a continuum of improving technologies and services that make organizations as data driven as they need to be.

3. Lasting change in public service must be human-centric

With data insight into who stakeholders are, public service organizations can ensure that the quick pivots and continuing changes they make are human-centric—that their decisions are made with understanding of and empathy for people’s needs.

This understanding is so important in public service. For one thing, people have been through so much over the last 18 months. In many ways, they are not who they once were, and organizations need to constantly take the pulse of shifting needs, mindsets and behaviors.

Unlike companies that can microtarget their efforts on their best customers, public service organizations are constituent focused and mission driven. They must serve everyone well and equitably. Being expressly human in how they do this is a touchstone. Staying true to it won’t just make for better service delivery experiences for citizens, businesses and students, it can also help attract the public service workforce of the future.

Knowing drives doing

Strip away all the complexity of today’s public service landscape, and what remains is an environment ripe for change. Fast and human centered change. I believe that just like those at the Higher Education Forum who found success challenging the status quo, public service organizations are up to the challenges of change. I can’t wait to see where it takes them.

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How exactly has the pandemic changed public service? What do the changes mean for institutions, organizations and those they serve going forward?

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Ryan R. Gaetz

Managing Director – Consulting, Accenture Workday Education & Government​ Lead

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