The top 5 digital talent trends across government

5 digital talent trends across government

Siobhan Farlow, consultant in the Government Practice at Odgers Interim, discusses the top 5 talent demands she’s seeing across the government digital, data and technology (DDaT) space

IR35, the government’s anti-avoidance tax legislation, will soon land in the commercial sector. Already in place for government contractors, it has the potential to level the playing field for senior talent acquisition across public organisations. As the sector becomes more attractive to the growing pool of independent professionals, new recruitment and resourcing trends are beginning to emerge.

It is something that is of particular relevance to the DDaT space. Both central government departments/agencies and local authorities are driving a digital agenda to ensure public services meet the needs of UK citizens and are fit for purpose in an increasingly digital economic future. For senior digital leaders across government, this presents both challenges and opportunities as the pool of independent professional talent evolves. With that in mind, these are the top five digital talent trends we’re seeing across the government digital, data and technology space. 

1. IT outsourcing

Long-term contracts with third party IT providers have been the mainstay of how many local authorities and central government departments have managed their digital technology needs. However, what was meant to be efficient and cost-effective IT management has become unwieldly. For many public sector bodies it has meant outdated technology, poor value for money and inconsistent services that bear little resemblance to the needs of modern society.

With the aim of reducing IT overheads and improving service levels, both local and central government are looking for ‘heavyweight’ individuals who can unpick these contracts to offer premium and highly adaptable service levels that are delivered efficiently.

Not only does this require a senior leader with an in-depth technical skillset but someone with experience in negotiation and diplomacy. These individuals will need to understand the nuances of large IT contracts within the context of the public sector and be able to carefully negotiate better value for money whilst ensuring full IT services continue to be provided. It’s a unique blend of technical and people skills.

2. Fintech innovation

Fintech has been a near permanent theme in the global banking and financial services conversation for the past decade. At the other end of the spectrum, it also presents myriad opportunities for the digital technology needs of public sector organisations. For example, last year the Food Standards Agency conducted a pilot project using blockchain technology as a regulatory tool for ensuring food standards compliance.

However, in terms of genuine innovation, the fintech market hasn’t progressed in the past five years. For the public sector, this has created a demand for senior leaders who can unlock this technology and realise its benefits, whether that’s for local government needs or nation-wide governing bodies and agencies. 

3. Digital transformation delivery

Digital transformation, the all-encompassing denomination ascribed to any medium to long-term technology project, underlines much of the government’s digital agenda. Whether it’s streamlining GP services or automating tax reporting for local residents, these projects require careful, sustained management to ensure they are delivered on time and to specification.  

It requires individuals who can identify the technologies that are suitable for government organisations to use and who can implement them with public service provision in mind. Increasingly, there is a demand for individuals who can take a hold of projects that are struggling to get off the ground, or falling behind agreed deadlines.

What’s more, a growing number of opportunities are available to senior digital leaders who can bridge the gap between front-line service employees and digital technology contractors and consultants. Being able to successfully bring together those who will be implementing the technology and those who will be using it is a sought after skill.

4. Cyber security

A much discussed topic in the debate around government resilience, cyber security frequently makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons when it comes to the public sector. Two years ago, the global ransomware attack, WannaCry, hit both public and private sector organisations with particular attention given to how the attack could so easily sweep through NHS computers and digital systems.  

As a result, there is a growing sentiment amongst local authority and central government executives for cyber security to take a more prominent and prescient role in the board’s/cabinet’s risk agenda. It is creating opportunities for digital leaders who have experience in implementing and managing cyber resilience and who think proactively when it comes to the digital defences of their organisation, rather than sticking to the traditional approach of ‘react once it’s happened’.

5. Utilising data

‘Data is the new oil’, is a mantra increasingly bandied about the commercial sector. Whether true or not, the growing value of data is indisputable. It is also something that the government sector has in droves; HMRC alone has nearly 50 billion lines of data that it is looking to make use of.

Other areas of government are also looking at how they can exploit their data lakes – vast repositories of raw data – to improve services, increase quality of life and create a more efficient business environment.

From a talent acquisition perspective, demand centres on individuals who are highly experienced in not just collating and analysing the data but in forming meaningful insights within the boundaries of increasing technology regulation. This is something that central government has historically had the upper hand in, however more local authorities are now looking at how they can equip themselves to take advantage of the many opportunities from data-driven insights. 


John at 31/05/2019 09:45 said:

Nice article Siobhan, and good to see your shared observation for the need of senior levels resources being able to manage the challenge of DDaT Programmes and achieving delivery and exeution excellence.

Andrew at 31/05/2019 09:56 said:

Really interesting article. I am curious to see how the private sector handles the IR35 legislation. Many of my contacts seem unconcerned about being forced through this, believing that they will not have to.. only time will tell. I suspect we will see far more managed service agreement relationships for numerous staff than individual contracts being offered, where substitution is easier to argue.

Caroline Giles at 31/05/2019 11:42 said:

A very informative article. In response to Andrew - it will certainly be interesting to see how IR35 lands in the private sector - it has hit many very badly in the private sector I know. I've had many a discussion with a friend who heads up procurement within a large utility company. They are taking very seriously how this will affect them - it will be costly. Their stance seems to be that those working for them that they need (and they are reviewing all positions) will have fixed term contracts or they can leave and quite simply they are of the opinion that because of IR35 it will force rates down.

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