Heightened citizen expectations figure prominently among a knotty mix of trends and issues
driving major changes in the sector; these include:
The overall budget environment remains
challenging, to say the least, at all levels of government (see State Spending Growth Declines,
opposite page). In many areas, budgets are constricting at the same time organizational mandates and responsibilities are expanding. These
constraints, public sector consulting leaders
point out, goose demand for “evidence-based”
decision-making, which in turn increases a need
for greater cost transparency and better data
management and data analysis capabilities.
“There is an increased demand for results-based
decision-making and accountability,” notes North
Highland Global Public Sector Lead Barbara Ray.
“This holds true for both constituents and federal
funding agencies. From the constituent perspective, public sector agencies face higher expectations to move toward a self-service government
and, at the very least, an enhanced citizen experience.” On the funding side, Ray adds, key federal
initiatives place higher levels of accountability on
recipients by making funding allocations dependent on service quality and performance outcomes.
The aging public sector workforce marks a
pervasive challenge; when discussing the issues
public sector organizations face, every consultant
takes time to describe this multi-faceted problem.
Otal notes that the financial crisis and the
unsteady recovery motivated many retirement-eligible employees to hold off on leaving the
workforce. This will result in some organizations getting walloped by much larger retirement
waves than previously expected. Ray notes that
the tenures of state-level employees are significantly shorter than their predecessors, a trend
that further complicates knowledge transfer and
succession planning capabilities, which already
lag behind private sector capabilities).
Ficery and Werfel point to recruiting challenges, particularly regarding the youngest generation of workers. Werfel identifies two recruiting
headwinds that must be addressed: pay disparity and the public sector’s reputation. Government agencies seeking to hire talented, young IT
professionals and data scientists are competing
against the lush compensation packages offered
by the GAFA and other high-tech companies.
Some federal leaders and managers have expressed concerns to their consulting partners that
troubling perceptions of government work, and
workers, are hurting recruiting; the negative portrayals of federal government promoted by many
elected officials cannot be helping.
“It becomes difficult to get people to enter
the public sector when it has a reputation for being bureaucratic or is held up as something you
wouldn’t want to aspire to,” says Werfel. “
Whether you believe in small government or you believe in expanding the government, we need great
people in government.” His point resonates when
revisiting some core government functions, such
as keeping our skies safe, ensuring a healthy food
supply, conducting border inspections, preventing
the spread of infectious diseases and much more.
Public sector organizations have wrestled with
the need to replace legacy information systems
for years. While headway has been made, consultants say, new challenges intensify the need
to modernize these core systems. “Many of these
legacy systems have been in place since the ’80s
if not earlier,” says Otal. “Now, many of the people who coded these systems are retiring.” Plus,
many organizations are updating legacy systems
while simultaneously implementing modern technology tools (e.g., cloud computing offerings) and
processes (e.g., agile development techniques),
which is stretching IT departments thin.
These needs are converging at a time when
many public-sector IT functions experience difficulty competing for new talent. There are other
complications as well. In recent years, enough