Citizens are consumers of public services, but their ability to act like consumers of private sector services is limited.  After all, there tends to be very little choice in the delivery of public services, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach or nothing.  However, with the adoption of modern technologies such as cloud-based services and the formalisation of digital skills and cultures across government agencies, public sector organizations are slowly taking up the challenge of purposely designing, building, and delivering public services with the citizen at the centre from the start rather as an afterthought.

Citizen first, first time

Governments have moved on from the quick-win solutions aimed at shifting citizen contact from face-to-face to internet-based interactions that were symptomatic of the rush to digitize public services as part of early e-government initiatives.  Governments are turning their attention to citizen-oriented service delivery, with a focus on integrating services and processes across individual agencies.  Providing services with the citizen at the heart of service design and delivery is not about creating tailored services for individual citizens, it is about creating a standard and consistent approach to services that are aligned to the needs of differing and increasingly granular citizen cohorts.

Innovating public services

The digitization of data and adoption of 3rd platform technologies mean that public sector organisations are now able to target specific issues and develop targeted solutions which can be delivered with increasing speed.  It is now possible to combine data gathered from sensor networks, with records of citizen data and other sources of information, coupled with cloud-based cognitive solutions to identify emerging needs, systems can provide decision makers with greater situational awareness about citizen’s needs.  Removing silos and layers of bureaucracy agencies can ensure individuals have access to public services at a time and via a channel that matches their life choices.  This flexibility is not limited to front office services.  The application of automation and optimisation tools to workflows and processes that allow organizations to respond rapidly to changes in citizens needs are enabling government agencies to streamline back office workflows and processes.   

What does a citizen-centric approach look like?

It will differ from agency to agency, but will cover the following three pillars;

  • Collaboration – lack of silos, traditional defined boundaries are being reviewed and where it makes sense taken down, data helps to oil the wheels of collaborative policy making.
  • Data driven insight – insight from existing data sources, blended with new data from array of sensors and feedback captured from end users.
  • Responsive – combining data to drive collaboration provides civil servants with greater operational intelligence on which to make decisions, decisions which can be automated where possible and acted on in real time.

We are already seeing government agencies adopt such an approach.  Examples of government agencies leading the way include;

  • Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Australia; Tasked with improving health and wellbeing outcomes for Victoria State citizens, the DHHS has been on a journey to transform services.  This has focused on deepening engagement with end users through co-design, building capability and increasing the availability and usability of resources.  This has been possible due to a new approach to managing projects and procurement, embracing a platform approach in combination with agile project delivery, valuing and empowering staff, encouraging innovation, and compounding organisational learning.
  • Al-‘Ain municipality, Abu Dhabi Emirate; In 2013, the municipality introduced a strategy to shift interactions through the dispersed customer services to digital channels, reducing face-to-face interactions with citizens by 80%.  The program embraced a three-step approach, starting with automating processes in the customer service counters, and then standardized service workflows so that they could introduce a one-stop-shop for citizens. As a third step, Al-‘Ain moved a set of high-volume services to a mobile portal; this project transformed into a cross-municipal initiative, where all three municipalities set up an emirate-wide mobile portal hub providing citizens with a single portal for services.
  • Glasgow City Council, United Kingdom; Glasgow has launched a strategic plan to address the challenges it faces, such as a disparity in the levels of poverty and inequality across city boroughs, long term health challenges, and a growing skills gap.  Underpinning this is an approach to be more accountable, open and transparent and to engage citizens.  This has led to the introduction of City Charter, setting out citizens’ rights, how the council will engage with citizens and a participatory budgeting approach.

Next steps?

There have been false starts in the past, but this time there is greater demand from citizens for better access to services, better targeted services, and greater involvement in the decision-making processes.  Technology is catching up with demands from enterprises.  The increase in sensors, connectivity options, analytics, automation, and decision-making tools means it is now possible for governments to clean an understanding of citizens needs at increasingly granular levels and to be able to act on this data in a much more consistent way.  The appetite for change with government for change and innovation has also increased.

This convergence means that the demand for change is accelerating, government are responding and reimaging how they engage and work with citizens to improve services.  IDC Government Insights Europe will be exploring many of these issues and the implications for vendors and end users over the course of the year.