The Journey to Digitise Government Services
Have you ever become frustrated by having to speak to several parties when trying to submit a request to a government agency? Or have you ever applied for a new license only to find out that they still have your old address? One of the many responsibilities of government organisations and agencies is managing a lot of information, such as who is licensed to drive a car, which cars are eligible to be on the roads, who owns an individual lot of land or a property, who has been born, married, or died, or who is enrolled to vote. These agencies have significant work forces whose sole task is to process the flow of information into their systems, and to ensure that this information is correct and complies with the local laws and legislation.
Over a long period of time, through the evolution of the legislation, changes in community expectations, and through restructures and reorganisations of government departments, government-managed information must continue to comply with the current legislation and be correct and up-to-date. The impact of losing just a small piece of information related to the identity of an individual – because a government department has been restructured or because an agency cannot access that information from a legacy system – can have wider ramifications than just for that person. For instance, due to the extra effort required to search for information while servicing a member of the public, government employees may need to sacrifice quality of service offered to others. Further, an incomplete profile of a citizen may result in that citizen being denied or restricted access to vital services and eligible concessions, such as in healthcare and education, which may also impact his or her loved ones.
The systems used to store and manage this vital information typically operate for a very long term, often measured in decades, simply because governments and society cannot afford to replace them every few years. The community, however, expects that the government keep the same pace as the commercial sector with technology changes, delivering modern experiences found on their favourite social media site or on a mobile app. This fast-paced change must be balanced with the need to keep vital citizen data secure, reliable and correct. Typically, government agencies tend to use technology that is perceived as fit for purpose at present, but not necessarily built with the long-term goal in mind.
The right platform for government
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are being deployed to manage core registries of information, with very little consideration given to the background and the purpose of such systems. They originated in the domain of marketing and were purposely built with the need to keep track of customer acquisitions and retentions, while monitoring the effectiveness of marketing and sales campaigns. These systems are about accounts, invoices, leads and opportunities. Similarly, Content Management Systems (CMS) are often applied to solve problems they have only a close fit for. Although CMS platforms are specifically designed to manage website content, enforce workflows for authoring and publishing elements of the web content such as the images, videos, they now serve a broader purpose. Increasingly, CMS platforms are becoming more commerce driven: tracking usage of users, enabling personas of the user, whether they are logged in or not, so that marketing teams can acquire customers, upsell and cross-sell and retain existing customers.
At a first glance these software platforms appear to do what government agencies are seeking. They provide configurable forms and workflow engines to manage the steps in a governance process, can hold relationships between records, support registration of users and logins, and new features can be deployed reasonably quickly. However, their product roadmaps are driven by the needs of those customers with the most influence: large corporations who rely on these systems to market and sell products to consumers in an omni-channel world. Consequently, they are not designed with the rigour of government in mind when it comes to storing vital citizen information.
Government vs. Commercial
For example, a retail store that uses a CMS to maintain currency of the product descriptions on its website may only be interested in how rapidly and efficiently those descriptions are updated when new products and sales campaigns are launched, with mistakes and inconsistencies rarely having adverse business impacts. A government agency, such as a Tax Office, on the other hand, may require keeping immutable both the current and historical eligibility rules for certain concessions, as well as a diligent approval process and tracking of the changes to the rules when those are made available to the public. Similarly, a supermarket chain rarely receives any documentation from its customers and its CRM has a mostly-outbound purpose of tracking email campaigns, click-through rates and how customers taking part in the loyalty program respond to promotions by shopping in store. In contrast, government agencies receive many different applications with multiple attachments from individuals and businesses; and need to keep a two-way communication channel open. This data needs to be carefully stored, cross-referenced and analysed to ensure integrity and to prevent duplication of information, such as when an individual applies for child benefits, but the processing agency does not have a record of the birth registration.
Bespoke or not?
Oftentimes, bespoke changes to those systems are the only way to align them with the realities of how government agencies must manage data. Unsurprisingly, a lot of these deployments become very large, complex, and expensive IT projects. Or, worse, the system is deployed, and the process has to change to manage around the systems’ limitations. Government agencies that skillfully manage the end-to-end citizen journey, report higher levels of citizen satisfaction (McKinsey 2015). What they need are systems that can support fast-moving expectations of society to provide great user experiences, while balancing the needs of government to securely and correctly store society’s most critical information.
Government agencies need stable products designed with information governance in mind, built to last, and aligned with the long-term management of this information. They need open platforms that can survive the loss or change in direction of the original supplier, and supported by the broader workforce without relying on niche skill sets. As government organisations need flexibility to manage change in legislation, while enforcing all of the legislation, they must take advantage of the changing technology landscape to become more effective and efficient, while keeping pace with the community’s expectations of accessing public services and their own personal information how they want it and where they want it, at any time of the day. This will lead to a greater adoption of digital public services, and, ultimately, will reduce cost to the taxpayers.
1. McKinsey 2015, ‘Implementing a citizen-centric approach to delivering government services’, McKinsey Quarterly, July 2015, viewed 27 June 2018, <https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-sector/our-insights/implementing-a-citizen-centric-approach-to-delivering-government-services>