Richard Gwyther, Regional Sales Director, UK&I, Public Sector, at SAP Concur shares his views on the trends we can expect to see across public sector organisations this year.
While the news of Covid-19 vaccinations has provided some light at the end of the tunnel for everyone, the fallout from the pandemic and the resulting third lockdown mean the first half of 2021 at least could be as turbulent and challenging as the past 12 months for public sector organisations.
Pressure on budgets, loss of revenues from the inability to deliver products and services, and the need to redirect resources to meet the Coronavirus challenge mean we will likely see continued upheaval for all parts of the public sector, from the NHS to central and local government, and across the education sector.
So what exactly will be the impact of these issues – and what other trends can we expect to see during 2021?
- Focus on efficiency: There is no doubt that Covid-19 will continue to have the biggest impact on public sector organisations in 2021, and all of their focus and effort at the moment is on reducing the infections and vaccinating people. Yet they remain under pressure to also deliver their other core services. That means there will need to be a greater focus than ever before on saving every penny possible, improving internal processes and having a clear and real-time view of exactly what the organisation is spending – from top-level procurement activity right the way down to travel and expenses.
- Safety first: All organisations have a duty of care to their people and that has been heightened by the increased pressures placed on people by Covid-19. So I think we will see an increased focus on the wellness and safety of employees across the public sector in 2021. That might be as simple as knowing where employees are at a time when staff are being asked to work remotely or to visit sites they wouldn’t normally visit, right up to making sure they have access to all right personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitiser and other safety equipment. Of course, many public sector bodies will be asking their staff to purchase such equipment themselves and to claim it back later – so organisations will need to make sure they have the right systems and processes in place to help them do that easily and quickly.
“We will see an increased focus on the wellness and safety of employees across the public sector in 2021.” Richard Gwyther, Regional Sales Director, UK&I, Public Sector, at SAP Concur
- Universities’ challenge: Universities have been affected by Covid-19 in a number of ways, not least in the way they manage the learning resources and curriculum of students who in many cases are unable to attend campus. Perhaps the biggest impact on universities in 2021, however, will be the loss of revenue from the fallout of international students as a result of the travel restrictions. Universities also face reduced revenues from the loss of activities in bars, restaurants and shops on campus.
- Brexit fallout: The announcement of the Brexit deal and the completion of the UK’s exit from the EU will be less of an issue for public sector bodies than it is for private firms – largely because the majority of government bodies don’t spend a great deal of money abroad and because most can’t claim back VAT. However, Brexit is yet another distraction and those public sector bodies that can and do claim VAT on some goods and services will need to free up yet more resources to deal with this issue alongside Covid-19. Again, for those organisations, a focus on efficiency and the automation of time-consuming tasks could well be key.
“Brexit is yet another distraction and those public sector bodies that can and do claim VAT on some goods and services will need to free up yet more resources to deal with this issue alongside Covid-19.” Richard Gwyther, Regional Sales Director, UK&I, Public Sector, at SAP Concur
- Enterprise-level approach at SME level: All of these pressures mean that cost-cutting measures, efficiency drives and real-time analytics will no longer just be necessary within the bigger, central government bodies – but right the way through the public sector, including at local level. Traditionally, our work to help organisations reduce costs and drive efficiency has been largely focused on the main ministries, the larger universities and the larger local authorities. But, as the need for cost saving and efficiency grows across the entire public sector, that is changing fast – with activity among smaller and local bodies accelerating. That’s a trend I think we will see continue throughout 2021, too.
It’s clear that the next 12 months will provide many challenges for public sector organisations, as they steer their way through unprecedented events while also trying to deliver their business-as-usual services.
Those that are able to navigate this period most successfully may well be the ones that realise technology and software solutions can help relieve some of this burden and free up valuable resources to help tackle these challenges – as well as helping them modernise for the longer term.