Are we entering a “cognitive” era?
IBM’s Vice President, Public Sector, Sharon Bagshaw sits down with Public Technology to discuss cognitive technology and the future of government digital transformation
You must have experienced some significant change in your time in IBM - can you summarise where things are today?
We are a cognitive solutions and cloud platform company - that hasn't happened overnight. We have been on a long journey to help our clients become digital, which includes taking full advantage of social, mobile, analytics, and cloud technologies.
It's really important to realise that being digital is not the destination, but rather the foundation for what is to come next, which is a new form of digital intelligence. This is what we mean by cognitive business: it's the ability to take data, especially unstructured data, and to ingest it, to understand it, to learn from it. It's hugely powerful.
In the context of government and the wider public sector, we have seen some really significant and interesting changes. We’ve seen, for example, improved accessibility to government data, and more personalised service delivery. In healthcare, we’ve seen systems used to help oncologists devise more effective treatment plans for patients.
These changes extend to the home as well. Imagine being a citizen, a vulnerable citizen, and being able to stay in your own home for longer because you have sensors tracking patterns in your daily routine, and alerting a family member, care organisation or even your local postman to check on you if those patterns change. Jersey post do just that with their ‘call and check’ scheme.
Cognitive is therefore the real differentiator in building on the digital transformation we have started, and it’s importance is only going to grow in a world of vast data streams from the Internet of things. Cognitive technology is changing our engagement with all industries and professions – we're truly pioneering a new era.
IBM has an event coming up called IBM Government Connect. Can you tell me more about that?
The first week is all about the issues facing business functions within an organisation, e.g., marketing, HR, and finance.
The second week is when the public sector events kick in. These will be interactive and discussion-based, and will focus on what a cognitive government and cognitive health business looks like. We'll look at these in the context of applying innovative technologies and will consider the changing skills needed to make it happen.
Government Connect is all about how cognitive solutions can help government organisations offer compelling new experiences, establish new focus, build new expertise, and devise new ways of working. It’s about embracing the digital intelligence that will deliver outstanding services to UK Citizens whilst improving efficiency and reducing costs.
Health Connect, on the other hand, will explore the enormous potential for cognitive computing to transform healthcare. Already, cognitive systems help enable enhanced patient care, advanced discoveries, and better decisions for providers around the world.
Why should a leader from the UK public sector attend these events?
Simply because they offer the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion and debate the future of the industry.
Attendees will develop a clearer idea of how to embrace the concept of digital intelligence. They’ll learn how to use digital technology, analytics and cognitive solutions to make a step change in how services are delivered to citizens or patients in the future.
Each session on the agenda will be led by a leader within the industry who is already at the forefront of this journey.
How do you envision the future of public sector digital transformation? Are you optimistic?
Absolutely! I'm hugely optimistic.
It's a fascinating, dynamic and challenging environment, so adopting a strategic approach to digital transformation is key. One needs to always bear in mind, however, that the task at hand is complex. There is still a job to do to modernize the legacy systems to support digitisation while keeping the machinery of government working – it’s a bit like changing the engines of an aircraft while it is still flying.
We know that digital transformation works, we know that it is being embraced by industries and citizens, and we know that there is a great opportunity to increase the pace and coverage of this transformation. As citizens, we have increasingly come to expect digital transformation because it is essential – it’s a necessary condition to bringing our interaction with government in line with what we take for granted in the commercial world.
What are the implications of this?
There is really only upside in terms of productivity and citizen engagement. We should not lose sight of the fact that this is almost the norm as our domestic lives merge with our working lives. So there is no choice here, we just need make it happen.
That said, there remains one area which has to be resolved for us to succeed: skills.
The need for skills is high and there is a big gap – we need to focus our attention on the critical skills required to deliver on the promise of digital transformation. We also need to focus on the areas where this is best achieved, e.g., sharing knowledge and driving cultural change.
We also need to be forward-thinking. If we’re to address the increasing security requirements on the subject of cyber security, for example, we have to both tackle the skills gap now and anticipate what is required in the future to stay ahead of the game.
What are the next steps?
For government, we believe that technology has a huge part to play. Indeed, it’s fundamental for transformation to a 'cognitive government'.
Getting the digital foundation right is critical. The technology for this includes cloud platforms and hybrid cloud to enable agility, platform as a service solutions, and Bluemix for open and dynamic development environments. All of these tools are crucial to building a solid foundation for digital transformation.
Digital technologies have altered how people interact. To succeed in this disruptive environment, government organizations need to offer compelling new experiences, establish new focus, build new expertise and devise new ways of working. Leaders will have to digitally reinvent how the organization operates and how it engages with its environment.
As we said earlier, cognitive is the real differentiator in building on the digital transformation we have started.
These are the issues that we will address at Government Connect on October 11. I'm looking forward to the event and the opportunity for debate.
In Health, the potential for Cognitive computing to transform the industry is enormous. Already, cognitive systems help enable enhanced patient care, advanced discoveries, and better decisions for providers around the world. This is what we’ll be covering at Health Connect on October 11.
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