No Turning Back as Public Sector Lurches Toward Digital Transformation

Governments are realizing the opportunities that digital administration offers to citizens. Better, faster services using digital tools that save time and money are being rolled out everywhere you look, but progress is uneven. 

In a country like  Estonia, you can renew your driver's license while waiting to board a bus. That small eastern European nation was forced to go digital decades ago when they were trying to extricate themselves from the Soviet Union and establish their own identities. In other countries, success has been harder to come by. Digital services can often be unreliable or complicated without saving the user much time, instead, they are seen as one more box to be ticked without really making life any easier for citizens.

While we have all the tools we need to create incredible e-government right here and now, for example, online form submissions, virtual queue management, and appointment scheduling, the reality is that there is still a long way to go before they are implemented in ways that make digital transformation a reality and produce a slicker, more friendly public service that benefits everyone.

Harnessing the Tools of Digital Transformation

The public sector would benefit from streamlining its service options via mobile communication, thus making it necessary for customers to have access to the services on their mobile devices.

Download the Whitepaper: How to Connect with Customers Anywhere Using Q-Anywhere

Integrating mobile is the fastest and simplest way to reach users with proactive messaging. But it’s also a fantastic way of empowering them to book appointments at a time that suits them. Two other digital factors are also playing a big role in the ability to do this: powerful cloud-based servers that can store huge amounts of data, and intelligent analytic software that can process the data and deliver scheduling to a mobile-first populace. This is a formula for changing millions of lives, provided it’s done properly.

There is a very real opportunity to disrupt the outdated, inefficient bureaucratic machinery that runs so many communities and replace it with a paper-free, digital interface, after all, these systems were built to process information, store data safely, and remove the massive headache of human error.

Two areas of the public sector will really benefit the most from digital transformation:

  • E-administration: the improvement of public services thanks to the collection of data     and management of information
  • E-services: facilitating citizens' interaction with their local government by allowing public documents, certificates, and licenses to be requested and processed

Seizing the digital opportunity to achieve these goals requires teams of talented individuals and decent budgets in order to make the transformation successful.

One of the biggest challenges facing the public sector is the need to draw citizens away from the corporate sector where they are well paid and incentivized.

Not only does the public sector require experienced workers and integrated digital tools, but the existing workforce must learn new methods, strategies, and culture, not in their daily habits.

This is an age-old problem for the public sector, but it does seem to be changing. The government is aware of the need to be competitive. Running cloud-based services like queue management and appointment scheduling require smaller in-house IT departments and less money spent on computer hardware to keep them running - thus freeing up funds that can be used to secure talented public sector workers.

Moving from Doing Digital to Being Digital

Many departments and administrators in the public sector are already well down the road in this process. People have been trying to solve the problems of administration using digital tools for a few decades with mixed results.

Bay County, Florida is a great example of a municipality getting it right. Their tax collectors’ offices served 200,000 people on a regular basis on everything from drivers licenses to concealed weapons permits.

But they were struggling to cope. They couldn’t manage constituents in their queues or make transfers between queues, and constituents weren’t receiving text message notifications. There was also no way to support virtual appointments or reports that allowed the Bay County Tax Collectors team to dig down into fundamental data and analyze trends.

Read the Bay County Tax Collector case study.

The Bay County administrators searched for a solution and came across Q-Flow from ACF Technologies, which looked like a natural fit to improve customer flow, increase productivity, and save time for both constituents and employees. ACF got to work, assigning a dedicated team to conduct fact-finding workshops and create solutions.

After only a few weeks, the Bay County Tax collectors’ offices were thrilled with the results. More accurate wait time forecasts helped them to allocate their workforce more efficiently, mobile appointment rescheduling was hugely impactful for consumers, and the reports they were getting in real-time improved overall decision making and saved money.

Dealing With the Pandemic

The changes in computing power which have occurred over the last five years are putting the whole system into overdrive. The convergence of widespread connectivity, massive cloud storage capabilities, and very powerful mobile devices were already laying the platform for a change in the way we do things.

Then the pandemic hit in early 2020 and lockdowns were introduced around the world. Suddenly, digital-first was the only option.

Millions of people (particularly seniors) were forced to grapple with electronic services for the very first time.

ACF Technologies was charged with the incredibly important task of building a national booking service for COVID-19 in the UK. Andy Hart, Managing Director, ACF Technologies (UK) tells the story of how “we got a call from Deloitte on a Friday night, telling us about the system. We had a bunch of meetings over the weekend to hear what they wanted and how quickly they wanted it. National facing systems where an individual can go onto a website and make a booking, and all the systems and processes that go behind it.”

Every day, the situation was getting worse and the urgency was growing.

“What would normally happen over an 18-month period, we got it done in a couple of days. Within 3 weeks of that first meeting, we were live doing the first COVID-19 tests,” says Hart.

The system that ACF built worked so well that they were given the huge responsibility of building an additional system for the national vaccine rollout. Working alongside the NHS and Microsoft, ACF delivered appointment scheduling systems capable of scheduling over 100 million vaccine appointments.

You can watch the incredible story of our Covid-19 partnerships here.

Citizens around the world have learned how to set up their computers, make calls via the web, add new accounts, book, pay online and conduct their business with the private sector and the state.

During COVID-19, the state and the citizenry both learned to adapt.

There is no going back to the old ways. We are moving from a state of “doing digital” where we were adding e-tools to our established practices and hoping for the best to “being digital” where new systems are built specifically for our digital tools.

Man in blue shirt pushing away binders while using his laptop.

What Are the Public Sector Challenges?

The implications for changes in the public sector are immense and no sector will be left untransformed.

“A digital transformation project is likely to implicate many other processes and systems, requiring that digital be considered closer to organizations’ core functions and improve its ability to quickly reconfigure itself” according to the Observatory of Public Innovation (OPSI, a body that works to support governments in taking a more deliberate, consistent and strategic approach to the public sector).

5 key areas tech experts need to focus on

There are a few key areas that have emerged as real success stories thus far:

  • One Single Portal: A familiar solution that offers different services under one roof is vital to gaining the trust of the public and making sure they use it. A consistent experience will remove frustration and boosts trust in a government's brand - provided it works.
  • Offer an omnichannel communication experience: It’s very important to have one centralized platform where users can keep track of their history, but it’s also important to communicate on all the channels where they already are. Use WhatsApp and Instagram to educate and familiarize people with your offerings.
  • Process Automation: Machines are more efficient at processing data. Make use of that. Sophisticated AI-assisted automation can process documents better and faster, can store them correctly, and serve them when needed. This should be the heart of a more robust, efficient public service.
  • “Auditability” & Security: A successful audit builds trust and requires well-kept records and transparency. When users know that corruption and inefficiency have been cleaned out of the system, they are far more likely to use it consistently.
  • Insights and Analytics: Today’s computer systems offer the ability for users to study each step of the process. With easy-to-use dashboards that monitor your processes, managers have access to real-time reports that identify bottlenecks, successes, and everything in between.

It’s Still Early Days

The disruption that digital transformation will bring to the way we govern ourselves is only beginning to be felt now. As more and more of our lives go online, the pace will pick up substantially over the next few years.

No sector of the public service will remain untouched by digital processes.

Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) neatly sums up the scale of disruption by listing how this will “affect integral organizational infrastructure, create extreme disparities between organizations, impact human and organizational relationships, affect markets, set new implicit rules, and create entirely new forms of value.”

The public sector may appear to be way behind the private sector, but that’s understandable. Deep, lasting transformation is hard to get right, while still maintaining a system that’s been built up over years with deep institutional memories and traditions.

It’s important to remember that most of the technology we’re talking about barely existed five years ago, let alone in the public sector. Civil servants should be given time and space to adapt to the new tools, make suggestions on what works for them, and in the process become advocates for digital change - that’s the only way it will become permanent and be used in ways that better the lives of citizens.

If you’re currently looking into digital transformation, and want to learn more about our solutions, contact us today. ACF has extensive experience delivering scalable, enterprise customer journey solutions to companies on a global scale. Schedule a time to speak with an expert today.