Digital transformation will be the biggest priority for public sector chief finance officers over the next five years, according to a survey by consultancy EY.
The research, published on Wednesday, found that 58% of the 19 UK public sector chief finance officers surveyed said that digital transformation would be a strategic priority.
“The pressures to deliver more with less in the public sector has thrust the role into the spotlight and they are responding to this challenge in different ways,” said EY’s head of UK government and public sector, Darra Singh.
This, he said, includes the idea that chief finance officers need to make better use of sophisticated data analytics, something that is sure to be welcomed by the proponents of data use by government.
For instance, Nesta is piloting a data-sharing scheme between London councils in an effort to make the case for a London Office of Data Analytics, which it hopes would be picked up by other regions.
Meanwhile, central government is being urged to change the way it uses data, as the Digital Economy Bill – which is making its way through parliament – is set to ease rules for data-sharing between government departments.
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Singh also cited Blockchain as a technology that will change the way the public sector is responding to ever-increasing budget pressures – something that has also been mooted by government departments, with the latest list of suppliers on the government’s cloud procurement platform including for the first time a platform that uses the technology.
The EY survey found that the second highest-ranked priority for chief finance officer was efforts to cut costs through automation and outsourcing, which was chosen by 26% of officers.
This chimes with priorities from other surveys and research, most recently in Deloitte’s The State of the State report, which estimated that 850,000 public sector jobs could be lost to automation by 2030.
However, both central and local government bodies that are considering upping their use of automation say the aim reduce the amount of repetitive and menial tasks, and argue that it will free up staff time to focus on more skilled jobs.
EY’s report also indicated a changing role for the chief finance officer in public sector organisations.
Because many savings plans require changes to business processes and organisational structures, chief finance officers are “increasingly being called on to support chief executives and other leaders in planning, testing and monitoring reforms”, it said.
Some 68% of survey respondents said that they were spending more time on providing analysis and insight to support senior leaders and decision makers than they were five years ago, while 63% said they were spending more time supporting development and strategic goals.
“We’ve gone beyond the isolated back office view of the finance profession,” said Singh. “Today’s CFOs are in a unique position to bring together a strategic view of the finances, performance and meeting future needs of their organisations. It is an exciting and challenging time to be a CFO the public sector.”