Callum Sherwood, Public Sector Specialist at Freshworks provides insight into the world of digital transformation and local government and ponders if we are asking the right questions in this vein
More of the services we rely on every day are moving online. Everything from projects like education and healthcare through to information on when bins should be collected is available online, and more of these services are being extended using mobile apps and self-service tools. However, many councils and public sector bodies are still running their activities with a traditional mindset rather than one developed to take digital into account from the start.
TechUK, an organisation representing the technology industry as a whole in the UK, has addressed this with its own paper in September 2018 on how councils should appoint more leaders that have skills and understanding around IT and digital in order to build a “digital first” mindset. Georgina Maratheftis, programme manager for local government at techUK, commented on the launch: “By grasping the digital agenda and having a digital-first mindset, councillors can be at the forefront of spearheading the transformation of the area into a ‘smart community’ where citizens are empowered to shape services and create the places where they want to live.”
However, getting the right information to leadership teams around service quality can be difficult, whether those services run on digital or not. So how can you get more accurate data on how digital services are performing, and how can you share this insight internally?
Building a bigger picture of your services
The first problem for many public sector bodies is how they get their data together in the first place. Without that information on how services are being used, it is difficult to see how well services are delivering on customer expectations. When data is being captured, getting it into the right context can also be a challenge.
Solving this problem is not just a question of sampling data. For many councils, existing helpdesk systems don’t capture the right data for reporting on interactions with customers. Getting more data from these systems can be difficult as well, particularly with multiple channels available for customers to use.
Consolidating all these channels together is only part of the story. Getting data ready for reporting purposes is another project. Making it easy to look at this data and ensure it is understandable for others is just as important. By building up a picture of how well customers are supported today, you can start to plan ahead around where you can implement those new services to make the most difference over time.
For example, chatbots have started to extend beyond online retail sites and into more markets and other use cases. Being able to provide simple responses to direct questions – when bins might be collected for a specific postcode, for instance, or information on specific opening times for public services – is a great example of where chatbots can be useful in the public sector.
However, investing in more digital services and automation like this should not be undertaken without looking at how that kind of service might be in demand or not. This user-driven approach has to be based on quantitative data from service channels. For example, are there already lots of requests for specific services coming through phone or email? Is the website with that information getting a lot of hits?
By taking data on existing request levels, you can think ahead on where to concentrate your efforts. For problems that lead to a lot of human agent requests, putting in new investment to deal with those requests can free up a lot of time that can be spent on more pressing issues that require more subtle and creative responses.
Conversely, if existing digital services like the council website already fill that gap adequately, then it will be worth putting more effort into dealing with other problems. This ability to understand which issues affect most people can help define where investment in new digital services can be directed to have the most impact. By using this data from citizen interactions, budgets can be made to go further.
Digital transformation and public sector objectives
Getting good data on customer interactions can help provide more insight into what is taking place over time, and where smaller steps can be taken to reduce human interactions and make more use of automation. Alongside migrating this day-to-day activity to digital, you can consider how to develop new services that can deliver significant improvements in how customers are supported.
This approach builds on data and digital expertise that you have in place, but it also relies on understanding how customers think and approach things in general. Where this differs from more traditional channels is that these services are not like for like replacements; instead, they combine services and technology in new ways. For example, this may involve creating new mobile apps that can wrap together information and services that people can access wherever and whenever they want; alternatively, it may stretch to using new technologies like augmented reality to provide additional information to people when they need it.
Building digital services on these new channels should help extend how customers can get support from local government organisations. However, these services should always have support built in, to make life simpler for citizens. By understanding the possibilities inherent in new digital developments, councils can implement better services for the communities they serve.
Public Sector Specialist
Tel: +44 (0)189 280 5040