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Destination #digital for the public sector

By Rob mettler, PA DIGITAL expert

I’m not a fortune-teller, but I had the privilege of seeing the digital future of the public sector through the eyes of over 500 clients from major government departments, agencies, councils, universities and charities. Last year we held multiple ‘Art of the possible’ workshops, with attendees drawn across disciplines and all levels of seniority, exploring themes such as automation, engagement, platforms, data and collaboration and then applying them to their everyday challenges and citizens needs.

So what were the big themes for 2017 that emerged? Defined by the people who really matter – our clients and their customers – I’ve summarised them below. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation

Cuts in budgets and years of under-funding mean councils and agencies are being more ambitious and actively looking to capitalise on AI and automation. All eyes are on Enfield Council and its imminent implementation of IPSoft’s Amelia – an online, automated customer service agent that learns as it serves its customers.

Harnessing the power of the crowd 

This holds great potential but culture often prevents this opportunity from being utilised. Can promoting Casserole Club reduce demand on meals on wheels? Can social media forums galvanise local communities to support each other and maintain public environments? Our attendees thought so.

Digitisation of physical space

In particular, this provides opportunities for councils and universities to take advantage of the power of connected devices and location based services. It can help new students and university applicants navigate alien surroundings and enhance those environments with augmented reality overlays.

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User accounts

While online self-service is not new, the need for a user account is often overlooked. These allow users to track progress of applications, receive and manage notifications, and allow organisations to provide their users with a single entry point to their work with them. They could include other services – perhaps an automated chatbot. And the result? Less deflection to more expensive channels and an always easily accessible touchpoint for your users.

But, it’s not all rosy in the 2017 crystal ball…

The wider digital ecosystem

The majority of public bodies, especially universities, still play poorly in the wider digital ecosystem. They rely and over-invest in their own digital channels and ignore the huge potential of others channels and social media to reach and connect with their audiences where they are. NHS Choices (a service we helped to launch) is an exemplar, with over 600 partner sites delivering content to target users where they are. 

User centricity 

Structure, culture and commissioning fight against the recognised need for user centricity, with citizens still having to traverse multiple service silos to complete their tasks and transactions with the public sector. As the user-centred methodology at the heart of the Government Digital Service design standards becomes more widely adopted across the public sector, we’ll start to see progress ultimately to create and deliver citizen led digital public services.

The shift to agile delivery 

The need for this is accepted, but it’s easier said than done. And sometimes the decision is more difficult than the reality of doing it. There’s a need to get the business and IT sides of the organisation working in harmony – in new ways, with new tools and with a new cadence. When you look at the scale and heritage of many organisations it’s no surprise this doesn’t happen overnight. But when it does, the outcomes are incredible – as we’ve seen working with agencies such as NHS Education for Scotland and with The Home Office.

So, interesting times lie ahead. We’ll track these trends throughout the year and although I’ve focused on the public sector, many private sector organisations are in a similar place and face the same opportunities and challenges. Have a think and see if you can benefit from these themes, and if you'd like to explore the Art of the possible for your organisation please get in touch. 

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