Digital government comes of age

  • Government
  • Solutions
  • 2020
  • Alex Osborne
25 August 2020

Digital government comes of age

Governments around the world have long understood the advantages of digitising their services. It's fair to say, however, that most public sector agencies are just beginning their digital journeys.

Public agencies face unique challenges compared to the private sector. Notably, they serve citizens rather than customers. This simple difference means greater pressure to deliver digital services within strict budgetary limits, whilst protecting data and complying with regulations.

In the age of digital government transformation, government departments also face immense pressure to deliver new solutions, improve agility and provide governance at pace, whilst their budgets shrink. When you throw in the huge complexity of many public sector organisations, not to mention challenges like navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering Brexit in the UK, these challenges look quite imposing.

So how should government agencies build and enhance the digital public services of the future?

Put citizens and users first
Step one is to focus on two main constituencies. The citizens who consume government services and the public sector teams that deliver them. Citizens want better experiences and outcomes. Increasingly, they also want to access government services in the same way they interact with consumer brands.

The world is going mobile and so government services, like renewing a driver's license or paying taxes, should be mobile-first. Public sector employees also want better experiences and outcomes, whether that's faster onboarding, streamlined communications or better access to shared data.

From a user's perspective, public sector IT clearly needs to be simpler, more streamlined and better integrated. Simplifying IT delivery, rather than relying on complicated systems that exist in isolation from each other, is key to delivering better, more efficient, more automated experiences at scale.

Respond at speed
Take the example of how Buckinghamshire Council, a local government authority in the UK, has used technology to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

When the UK government announced a national lockdown in early 2020, Buckinghamshire Council became the frontline in delivering new, critical services to support the most vulnerable citizens. They included delivering food parcels and medicines, helping isolated citizens living on their own in lockdown and much more.

The Council had to deal with a huge array of new data, both from central government and from the hundreds of citizens who were asking for support. The key was ensuring that Council staff, community hubs and volunteers all had the right information to act on.

A redesign of the Council's operational approach, bringing together IT, HR and financial services onto the ServiceNow platform, created a new automated database, with more than 90 fields of essential information that are managed and updated in real time.

The end result was a simplified user experience that enabled the Council to respond at pace, ensuring thousands of vulnerable residents received the services they needed.

Practical steps
This example shows that improving digital service delivery doesn't necessarily require high-profile, complex or flashy projects. In fact, huge benefits can come from practical, straightforward steps designed to simplify infrastructures and processes. Applying digital thinking to IT workflows can quickly highlight repetitive processes that can be streamlined and automated.

It bears repeating that digital transformation poses unique challenges for the public sector. Moreover, the drive to implement digital technologies continues to evolve rapidly, moving beyond core IT services to include the adoption of AI, IoT and immersive technologies, for example.

The key is taking a step back and viewing the IT challenge as a whole, rather than thinking about individual solutions to individual challenges. Have a clear roadmap and align your tech strategy with your organisational goals, not the other way around.

Simplification and consolidation will deliver the service improvements that citizens and government employees deserve.

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