Q&A: Microsoft’s Glen Robinson

We chatted with Glen Robinson, national technology officer at Microsoft UK, about how the public sector is navigating the current landscape, the potential for harnessing data, and why it’s important to invest right now, rather than cutting costs.

Posted 23 June 2022 by Christine Horton

What sort of activity are you seeing across public sector and government as organisations try to navigate current economic and logistical challenges?

There is a lot of pressure on organisations across both the public and private sector. We’ve just come out of the pandemic and all the effects it had on industry and jobs, along with energy prices rising and the cost-of-living crisis, is putting these organisations in some very difficult positions.

As a result, they are acutely focused on business efficiencies and for a lot of organisations in the public sector this means driving cost out of the bottom line quickly. However, we consistently see significant return on investments, especially with digital technology, greater over time than any short-term cost cutting. Most public sector organisations are focused on a specific figure that they need to save and are simply looking at this.

Public sector organisations, like all businesses, are struggling to recruit the staff they need so they need to focus on how they can enable staff to maintain services. We saw through the pandemic the impact the application of digital technologies had. They allow automation, better insights through data, the ability to collaborate virtually with colleagues and citizens anytime, anywhere, and as a result allow the public sector to drive efficiencies without any degradation of service to citizens.

Why is it more important to invest in the digital landscape rather than attempt short-term cost-cutting?

While cost cutting can impact financials in the short-term, it could leave the public sector with wide open gaps in the future. And when those gaps can lead to severe impact on citizens it is not a saving worth making.

We are focused on helping our customers really understand what they can do with existing budgets and existing technology. The only way to drive efficiencies, without increasing headcount, is to enable existing staff to work smarter and this is where automation and digitising processes can ensure no deficits in the services citizens demand. Investing in digital transformation can impact the bottom line in the longer term.

It is also important for organisations to sweat their existing technology investments. Many will use a technology for a few features and not investigate how all the other features can support employees to do their jobs more efficiently, and consequently deliver to the public. For example, Microsoft Teams is much more than a video conferencing solution. There is a huge part of the technology that many organisations are missing out on.  

At Microsoft, we want to ensure that every person and every organisation has a great experience with our platforms. As a result, we publish all the best practices and learnings from our customer success unit so that all customers can take advantage of the resources we have, the experience of other organisations and the technology investments they have made.

How has the current landscape influenced purchasing and operating decisions – e.g. sustainability? Is that still a priority?

Encouragingly, yes. With organisations struggling and cost-cutting measures in place, I was worried they would stop activities linked to sustainability goals, but this isn’t the case.

Despite the context we are all working in, organisations still see meeting sustainability targets as one of the most critical issues their organisation faces.

We need to be thinking about working smarter in an organisation and not consuming as much resource as we have done previously. This is making organisations think about home working strategies, their travel policies and their office systems.

To support organisations in meeting these targets we have recently announced that the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability is generally available. This will give organisations the transparency they need through measurement capabilities to make informed decisions on the things they can do that can have an impact.

What is the potential for harnessing data in public sector?

The current climate is forcing the public sector to think differently about how they are running their organisations, providing services and engaging with the public. Data should be the foundation of all decisions made, whether that’s budgets, resources or recruitment. But this is only possible if there is transparency, and most importantly trust in the data.

To do this, trusted connections need to be made across departments. Historically the connections haven’t been there, but organisations are realising that they need to find a way to share information more effectively.

An important aspect of this is implementing governance and security. Controls around the access to data is critical, especially in the public sector and especially if there is to be multiple departments and organisations collaborating on that data. With the right controls and the assurance that the data is protected, government departments can collaborate in ways that have never been possible, ensuring they are able to deliver the best services for the citizens they serve.

A decentralised approach to collaboration and data sharing allows public sectors organisations to retain, protect and secure their own data. Using their own organisational and legal controls, they can provide the rights and access privileges to the right people in different departments for particular scenarios. It is this fidelity of control that is needed in the public sector and means that organisations can make the most of their data to make informed decisions on actions to take.

It is a step change for the public sector but in order to maintain services, the sector needs to ensure data is more fluid cross departments. The role of technology is to deliver the platforms to enable collaboration and data sharing across multiple organisations in a secure and controlled way.