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Many of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic are accelerating trends already found in the human and social services (HSS) sector such as pressures from governments to do more with less, workforce limitations and the need to embrace digital transformation. COVID-19 has forced HSS organizations to transform and cope in new operating environments. Research carried out for KPMG International by Forrester Consulting in May to July 2020 across 12 sectors in 11 countries and territories, that also included HSS digital leaders has revealed a number of insights.1

  • Those surveyed reported a range of disruptions to their business operations, with roughly a third reporting reductions in salaries, increased security risks, increased need to reduce costs, losses of revenue or shifts to a remote workforce. Outside of this survey, disruptions in the demand for services and supply of inputs and labor have also been reported, these include insufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) that have put the care workforce at physical risk; trauma likely to have an effect on the mental health of the workforce, as well as an increasing demand for related services; and mass unemployment putting significant pressure on the systems designed to support people who are out of work.
  • The pandemic has also shifted how organizations are prioritizing investments in technology. According to research conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG International in late 2018, immediate top investment priorities in HSS organizations were policy, regulation, and funding. Sixty-eight percent of respondents saw technology architecture as a lower priority for near-term investment.2 By May−July of 2020, four-fifths (81 percent) of organizations surveyed in the sector saw digitally enabled technology architecture as a top or high priority. Seventy-one percent of HSS organizations also indicated that they had moderately or significantly accelerated elements of their existing digital transformation strategies due to the pandemic while 67 percent had moderately or significantly increased their digital transformation budget.
  • HSS organizations are not the only ones struggling with COVID-19’s impact. Across the 12 sectors surveyed, only 22 percent of organizations indicated that they had a formal strategy to transition from pandemic reaction to recovery, another 58 percent indicated that they were working on these plans. HSS organizations less prepared with 13 percent having a formal plan in place, while another 66 percent were working on their recovery strategy. This is understandable as organizations have grappled to manage the immediate response to the pandemic. However, there is now a growing impetus to understand the long-term implications and opportunities from the rapid change that has occurred.

A window of opportunity

While the impact of COVID-19 has been tragic and has added pressure to an already challenging environment, there are many positives that can be taken from how the sector has responded:

  • Elements of services have been provided virtually. Where effective, this approach can make services quicker and easier while freeing up time and cost for care that requires personal contact;
  • In many jurisdictions, the care workforce has received unprecedented societal support and there is a better understanding of the real value of these support systems;
  • Community engagement has significantly increased, which may offer an alternative route to maintaining popular services that do not have sustained government funding;
  • In many places, integrated government responses have embedded close working relationships between different parts of government that support vulnerable groups;
  • The urgency of the pandemic has forced organizations to break down barriers that previously blocked activities that support efficient working such as data-sharing; and
  • Emergency funding has forced services to be designed rapidly around what customers need.

The pandemic has fundamentally altered many elements of society. For this sector these changes have been rapid but also often positive, as many people have come to appreciate the great value of the care workforce’s contribution. Organizations have an opportunity to maintain this positive momentum, adopting better technology to build a new role for HSS in society and the economy.

References:

  1. A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG, May-June 2020.
  2. A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG, December 2018.