by Dan London

Digital revolution opens a world of opportunity for better government service

Aug 29, 2017
Digital TransformationGovernmentIT Leadership

Public sector trailblazers are at a tipping point. As citizen demand for digital government continues to rise, organizations are finding new, more collaborative and innovative approaches to improving both services and outcomes

Government building with greek columns
Credit: Thinkstock

The expanding capabilities and widespread adoption of digital technologies in the private sector amounts to our latest industrial revolution.  This revolution has introduced innovations such as digital assistants, predictive analytics and online collaborative platforms to improve the way the public sector delivers service to citizens. These customer service tools are demonstrating their value along with the potential for widespread adoption in the public sector.

The World Economic Forum notes the digital revolution is “disrupting almost every industry in every country.”(1) We have seen how social media played a major role in historic political changes in national governments in the Middle East a few years ago, and more recently in the United States, with tweeting candidates and officials taking their cases directly to the people.

In the realm of organizational operations and customer service, digital technologies have brought large-scale overhauls to many commercial industries, while having, as yet, a more limited impact in the public sector. However, a recent Accenture survey of U.S. citizens found that they are clamoring for government to develop and adopt new digital approaches for customer service. In fact, a vast majority of U.S. citizens, 85 percent, said they expect the same or higher quality digital services from government as from private sector organizations, up from 73 percent in 2014. (2)

Here are some illustrations of the future of digital government that are beginning to sprout and likely to spread in scope and velocity over the next few years.

Convenience and customer services

Voice activated “Digital assistants” from Amazon (Alexa), Apple (Siri), Google (Google Now) or Microsoft (Cortana) are in millions of American households — seemingly an almost overnight sensation. Some U.S. state government organizations are adopting these same types of technologies to better serve citizen needs. For example, Mississippi has integrated a digital assistant offering into its platform to help residents on tasks such as vehicle registrations, license renewals and paying taxes, and is exploring new ways to expand the initiative. Utah has launched a driver’s education testing program using a digital assistant as a “training buddy” for those preparing to take their written driving test. Our previously cited research found U.S. citizens strongly favor this type of advanced digital functionality and “personalized service” from government.

Improving decision making and efficiency

Predictive analytics is another big area of change coming to government. Across the globe, police agencies are among the early adopters, with some in France, Singapore, the UK and the U.S. using data analytics to better inform decision makers and shape public safety programs and policies. More effective crime fighting and more efficient use of police resources are beginning to show the value of harnessing “big data” in this way, and near-term followers will likely be other types of public safety agencies as well as transportation, health and social service leaders looking to gain an edge in addressing complex, enduring challenges. For instance, the National Association of State Workforce Agencies reports that at least 20 U.S. states are testing or using predictive analytics in their unemployment insurance programs to reduce fraud and errors.  

Building citizen support and engagement

Another big opening for government is to leverage digital capabilities to build citizen support and engagement with public institutions.  Accenture research further shows that most U.S. citizens indicate improvement and expansion of digital services builds their support for government, motivating an “open government” movement around the country.A new project launched in California, Digital Democracy, compiles data in an online platform to provide citizens better access to information on legislative hearings, public documents and public datasets on a variety of topics. The project is expanding to Florida, New York and Texas in 2018, which will bring one-third of U.S. citizens much-improved access to information on what’s happening in their state governments.

Forging strategic connections to improve program outcomes

Forward-thinking government agency leaders are recognizing they can mobilize potential partners more easily as digital capabilities expand, to improve citizen services, overcome budget limitations and better advance broad government priorities, such as economic development. The French public employment services agency has launched an online platform to better connect jobseekers with opportunities in the workforce. It brings training and job services together on one site, building on the shared interests of the unemployed, job creators, trainers and educators. This type of platform showcases how digital technologies are enabling a new era of collaboration and data sharing.

What’s next

We are at a tipping point in the public sector. As citizen demand for digital government continues to rise, public sector technology trailblazers are guiding their organizations into more collaborative and innovative approaches to improve citizen services and outcomes. This wave of digital disruption and the technologies that underpin it are advancing rapidly and fueling improved and even more productive citizen-centric interactions. These are exciting times in the digital revolution for government, and smart public service leaders are seizing opportunities and forever changing the way we live and the way governments serve.   

(1) World Economic Forum, 2016 – The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means, How to Respond

(2) Accenture, 2016 – Digital Government: Your Citizens are Ready, Willing and Waiting