Policy
February 12, 2015

Digital Government Can Give Real Power To The People

In theory, successful digital government is pretty simple—deliver government services that are so engaging citizens want to use them. Yet, some say, the benefits of digital government have been oversold, as many early digital government experiments have struggled to meet expectations.

So the question that arises is: What will it take, then, to shift the balance of usability in this sector to the customer, while enabling government agencies to deliver public services that are personalized and efficient; ultimately better serving the daily lives of citizens?

The Power Of Digital Government Across Devices
In the private sector, customer retention and competition drives businesses to continuously improve the user experience. However, in the public sector, the competitive landscape is entirely different. While citizens can’t choose the government that they interact with, they may be able to choose the channel for their interactions. For government agencies, the costs per transaction vary widely.

Creating digital services that citizens prefer to use instead of more expensive channels of government (for example, paper based communications and counter service) is critical to realizing cost savings and increasing citizen satisfaction. But it’s also as critical to offer digital and assisted digital experiences to minimize the overall cost of citizen engagement in physical locations because not all types of government service lend themselves to delivery online.

On the other hand, some sections of the population might never be able to use digital government services or could require additional support to do so. So there needs to be a balanced approach to streamline service delivery; making certain that the most vulnerable groups are not left behind.

Here, then, are some of the characteristics that are critical for successful digital government services—many of which are already employed by savvy marketers in the business world:

• Easy to use and adopt quickly: Design and functionality are intuitive, and the user experience is equal to that of the best private-sector Web sites.

• Available anytime, anywhere: Processes can be completed on multiple devices in different settings, without the need to rekey data.

• Optimized user experience for every device: Across desktops, tablets, and mobile devices, from the newest to the oldest, the user experience is consistent to avoid leaving sections of the population behind.

• Cost savings: Because the services are so effective and efficient, they replace, rather than replicate, other channels for a large portion of the population.

• Flexible options: Services are dynamic enough to reflect the real-life conditions of different “customers” and are available to different users on their terms.

This last point is particularly important for inclusive digital government. A single federal ministry is likely to provide services to a wide cross section of the population with different needs. Those needs are likely to evolve across the lifetime of a citizen’s engagement with that department. For example, a new visitor with a temporary need might be able to take advantage of self-service options, whereas longer-term beneficiaries of government support can require significant help.

Digital services need to be flexible enough to handle these different scenarios, while still driving an underlying commitment to digital channels that will enable government departments to improve service delivery and increase employee productivity. Regardless of which segment of the population an agency serves, the digital government service should deliver engaging, location-aware, and personalized experiences that provide access to relevant information.

Designing successful digital government services that respond to the needs of different citizens will require governments to reflect on how they manage their entire content life cycle. Key processes can be broken down into four main stages:

• Make: All services are made up of content (for example, Web pages, forms, documents, images, and videos), and the presentation of that content is relevant, attractive, and easy-to-use.

• Manage: All content is stored and managed in a way that it can be efficiently reused by multiple services and kept fully secure.

• Mobilize: The right content is sent to the right devices, at the right time, to maximize user impact. Create once, deploy to many.

• Measure: Data analytics are deployed to measure the success and efficiency of a service, allowing continuous, small improvements to be made that drive better outcomes.

Put simply, the best way to create a digital experience that meets user expectations and drives efficiency for government is to personalize services for the user and the user’s device.

Develop ‘Government As A Platform’
The greatest barrier to efficient and transformative digital government is the existence of organizational silos. The Federal government is in the process of streamlining and breaking down some of those silos, but users are still faced with a series of essentially separate organizations—each trying to optimize the experience it provides. While individual services are incrementally helpful, government agencies are missing a massive opportunity to improve services through cross-government service provisioning.

In the private sector, a successful online retail Web site offers suggestions for other items that a customer might be interested in purchasing. Yet government agencies currently cannot cross-promote services because the data behind each digital experience is driven from an individual silo within the different branches of government.

If government departments operated as business enterprises do, they would use the information they gather from citizens during their digital government transactions to recommend other services that might help, such as a local library offering a new online service, a free flu shot, or a reminder that a passport is due to expire.

Cross-government marketing would transform citizen experiences with digital government and drive huge efficiencies across government agencies. Assuming appropriate data protection procedures are instituted, it could offer citizens an opportunity to have a relationship with the whole government—not just one department—in ways that empower citizens and improve their lives through easy access to the services that are most relevant for them. This “government-as-a-platform” approach is critical to driving cost-effective digital government at both the national and local levels.

Creating A Compelling User Experience
A clear correlation exists between the maturity of a service and its use by citizens. By focusing on developing compelling user experiences and skillfully using analytics, government agencies can help drive the next generation of digital government services.

In the short term, a focus on improving transactional services—by following the lead of consumer and B2B businesses—will help empower users and drive efficiency gains that can fund additional assistance for vulnerable groups. Longer term, the adoption of an enterprise-wide approach to digital government will help departments realize deeper cost savings and drive enhanced government services, ultimately giving more digital power to the people.

Article first appeared on Adobe’s CMO.com

 

About Barry Leffew

Barry Leffew is vice president of Adobe’s NA Public Sector Group, which supports government organizations worldwide in the implementation of Adobe’s digital experience solutions for citizen engagement, business process efficiency, content security, and e-learning and collaboration. Leffew has more than 20 years of experience in the information systems industry, an extensive background in the government market, and is active with a wide variety government committees and associations.

 

About this author

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Eric Jacksch

Eric Jacksch is a leading cybersecurity analyst with over 20 years of practical security experience. He has consulted to some of the world's largest banks, governments, automakers, insurance companies and postal organizations. Eric is a regular columnist for IT in Canada and was a regular columnist for Monitor Magazine and has contributed to several other publications.

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