Opinion

Dealing with disruption

The public sector is under increasing pressure to adapt to big-hitting disruptors. Taking action now could protect precious resources and benefit local communities.

These are challenging times for public services. Already facing budgetary constraints in many parts of the world, publicly-funded organisations are being bombarded by potentially costly disruptors at every turn.

From austerity to the cyber threat and the challenge of digitalisation, resources are being stretched to the limit.

For many in the public sector, including health service providers, government and police departments and educational and housing organisations, responding to these disruptors isn’t just a matter of working towards greater efficiency or preparing for the future, it’s a matter of survival.

Challenges

The challenges facing public bodies worldwide are many and varied. They include:

  • How to minimise the risk of cyber attack;
  • How to deal with regulation changes;
  • How to survive austerity measures in the face of rising demand from an ageing population;
  • How to make savings by adopting new technology;
  • How do drive operational efficiencies;
  • How to increase the quality of internal and external audit to reduce risk.

To help organisations respond effectively to these challenges, accounting firms are increasingly offering highly specialist services in addition to more traditional audit, assurance and tax support.

Cybersecurity

One of the biggest priorities for publicly-funded bodies in 2019 is ensuring adequate cybersecurity is in place following the devastating ‘WannaCry’ cyberattack in 2018. The attack shut down hundreds of thousands of computers around the world with messages from hackers demanding ransom payments. In the UK alone, it cost the publicly-funded National Health Service £92m, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Cyber criminals often target public sector oragnisations, particularly educational institutions, because IT is commonly decentralised, security funding budgets are limited and there can be large amounts of confidential data that provide rich pickings for hackers.

Global accounting firm Mazars, a participant firm in the Praxity Global Alliance, is among those helping publicly-funded organisations make cybersecurity a key part of their finance strategies.

Mazars’ UK Public Services arm offers support on anything from cyber risk assessments and cyber readiness assessments through to vulnerability assessments, resiliency and business continuity.

Gareth Davies, UK Head of Public Services at Mazars in London, says cybersecurity is often built into internal audits to minimise risk, adding: “We have a specialist technology team including specialists in cybersecurity.”

Similarly, other participant firms in the Praxity Global Alliance offer specialist support for publicly-funded bodies in areas such as education, finance, trade, social affairs, power, telecommunications, water supply, health, transportation, security, justice and defence.

This support includes specialist audit and advisory services including seminars and webinars on latest trends and developments.

US Accounting firm Plante Moran, for example, recently developed a three-part on-demand webinar service to help organisations protect against cyberattack and respond effectively if there is a data breach.

Joint working

As well as making operations more secure, public bodies are also having to balance increased demand for services against a common backdrop of financial constraints. This is driving innovation in service design and delivery, more partnership working across organisational boundaries and better use of data.

In the UK, for example, public sector organisations are looking at new ways to provide services in the light of sustained austerity and funding pressures. There are also concerns over Brexit, how to use technology to solve the funding gap and how to manage joint working between different government services.

Gareth explains: “Much of our work is specialising in what it takes to work efficiently and what barriers need to be overcome,” he adds. This includes using technology to help different public service providers such as health and social services work together to care for people when they come out of hospital.

Specialist expertise

By providing specialist audit and advisory services to help publicly funded bodies deal with the biggest challenges they face, Mazars has increased its public sector fees from £6m in 2012 to £30m today.

Much of this success is down to the knowledge and expertise of the accounting firm’s personnel. “We have recruited specialists who are passionate about the sector and it’s one of those sectors where we can take on the ‘big four’.”

International support

Accounting firms that participate in the Praxity Global Alliance also provide expertise to public sector organisations at international level including complex contracts for the European Union and United Nations.

Praxity participant firms regularly exchange knowledge on latest trends and developments within the public sector at international conferences and events so that firms can develop cutting-edge solutions for their clients anywhere in the world.

Minimising risk

The challenge of dealing with disruption to create secure, efficient, and future-ready operations has become a priority for publicly-funded bodies. To respond effectively, organisations need to create a robust strategy to minimise risk in key areas while managing constraints on resources.

It’s a tough ask but it’s one which public sector organisations can address with specialist support from the accounting industry.

This article was written for Praxity Global Alliance, the world’s largest alliance of independent accounting and consulting firms.