Digitally Innovating in Government to Give Citizens What They Want, Not Tomorrow But Now!

November 23, 2018 by Lape Runsewe

Digitally innovating in government to give citizens what they want, not tomorrow but now!

Online engagement in some form is something most of us all really love – satisfying our entertainment desires with our latest binge on a new Netflix mini-series or our addiction to Instagram is easily done. But as to using digital channels to help solve our problems and anxieties, especially relating to the public sector domain? – this can be much more difficult!

All too often we see departments lever­age communications technologies to enable secure transactions with citizens – for example, citizens can apply for and receive benefits and various permits and make payments electronically. However, these services are still frequently delivered in silos where government applications focus on each user in a ‘citizen-centric’ manner, sure, but don’t scale across user experiences to improve the quality of transactions. So what’s missing? We think it’s a combination of having the right approach, the right investment and the right design.


The way forward to satisfy users’ experiences with the right approach
Genuine ‘transformed government’ to address this quality of experience issue for citizens will make smart tech­nology investments and change department cultures. It will challenge outdated processes, use fresh insights to make decisions, and apply a user-focused lens to every aspect of their operations. For government, the new digital culture is one in which citizens can engage in new ways to help frame policies, shape programmes, share information and receive services. IBM, for example, has reviewed a number of government IT projects, both successful and less so and tried to identify the seven factors common to the most successful ones. These are being more:

  1. Persona-centric: creating differentiated experiences for all users—citizens, employees, and constituents.
  2. Strategically agile: applying Agile, iterative principles across the enterprise, and consistently learn, refresh, and improve.
  3. Sustainably resilient: focusing on safeguarding against current and emerging threats in today’s data-driven, highly distributed world.
  4. Actionably insightful: capturing, analysing and employing data effectively to uncover valuable insights, make decisions, and optimize performance to deliver mission outcomes.
  5. Responsively operational: using digital principles and tools to improve operations, services and processes, leveraging real-time feedback, automation and lean prin­ciples.
  6. Access-empowered: empowering end-users by providing multiple channels for anytime, anywhere access to information, transactions and feedback, especially through increased mobility and accessibility.
  7. Eco-system & collaboration oriented: exploring new, innovative partnerships and incorporating new technology solutions that stay nimble and flexible to achieve evolving mission objectives.

The right strategic investment in digital for the future
An important driver to rethinking government approaches to digital service delivery is also the so-called ‘legacy IT’ problem. This comes from the fact that many departments began to digitize their operations decades ago using technologies that are now simply ageing. Much investment still goes into the operation and mainte­nance of these legacy systems that are now becoming obsolete. Private sector experience has clearly demonstrated that strategic investments rather than simply duplicating investment in technology can and do produce long-term cost reductions and bring a significant positive return. Obso­lete legacy systems can be replaced with modern technologies on much more cost-efficient platforms.

Building for the future requires departments to transform legacy systems using cloud ser­vices and shared solutions that will result in substantial cost savings, allowing departments to optimize spending and reinvest in critical mission needs and leverage modern tech­nologies such as mobile and the IoT. And we recognise it’s much easier said than done!

Transformation goes well beyond simple advances in technology
So what’s the missing ingredient from this combination of right approach and right strategic investment? Isn’t that enough? An organisation also has to change its very approach to problem-solving to genuinely transform, which is part of organisational culture. Steve Jobs described the approach of ‘design thinking’. Design thinking is as relevant in the public sector as in any other. At its simplest, it’s the combination of relevant research, problem definition, ideation and innovation and the execution of rapid prototypes to solve the original problem.

The public sector shouldn’t have to morph solutions from the private sector onto their own ‘ecosystems’. Genuine service and transactional quality improvements will only come about if the sector takes an innovative ‘design-based’ approach to improve citizen experiences.

The right attitude, the right investment and the right design. Before you know it, we’ll be bingeing on public sector platforms!

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