Tracey Lethbridge, head of UK public sector at OpenText, discusses how digital technologies could empower governments and their people during the current pandemic and beyond
Governments across the world are facing a period of drastic change. Whilst boosting technological innovation – in an effort to keep up with the demands of the people and continue to engage with constituents effectively – has been on the agenda for some time, the recent pandemic has catapulted it into the spotlight even further.
In September, the UK government announced the launch of its National Data Strategy. This puts data at the heart of the UK’s COVID-19 recovery plan. The idea is for organisations to use data and modern technologies to drive digital transformation, innovate and boost growth across the economy. It proposes an overhaul of data usage across the public sector, including a programme to transform the way that data is managed, used and shared internally, as well as with third-party organisations and private citizens.
Whilst we can all appreciate the sentiment behind this strategy, for many there is a long way to go before it becomes a reality. In fact, recent research carried out by OpenText revealed a significant disparity between the proposed plan and the current state of information sharing and collaboration, with only 11% of local authorities having fully digitised all of their citizen records. In fact, over a quarter (27%) of UK citizens are still unable to access their own records online amidst the ongoing healthcare crisis.
With central government and local authorities trying to manage people and workflows following the mass transition to remote work at the same time as protecting vulnerable citizens from COVID-19, it is important that government organisations rethink and readdress how to boost collaboration throughout the entire system. It is only then that the public sector can level the playing field, while continuing to strive for easier and faster ways to share information, both internally with staff and externally with citizens and third-party organisations.
Connecting with the modern citizen
Today’s governments have many hurdles to overcome. As well as navigating technological changes and complex mission requirements, they also need to manage growing budget pressures and meet increasingly high expectations when it comes to citizen service levels.
After all, the modern citizen is typically fully aware and appreciative of the benefits of digitisation. Almost every aspect of their lives will be touched in some way by technology. These sophisticated consumers demand accessibility and an optimised customer experience via a multitude of platforms, at a time they decide, through whichever vehicle they prefer. Therefore, catering to the modern citizen requires a government which is prepared to serve in a multichannel, 24/7 environment, be it online, self-service or mobile.
With the majority of local authorities still relying on legacy systems, there is little chance that these expectations will ever be met. For example, integrating data analytics and automation could be game-changing for the public sector and support both external and internal communication needs. However, without the infrastructure in place to support these initiatives, their success will be limited.
If government organisations keep focusing their energy and resources on maintaining and supporting obsolete systems, there leaves little time to focus on fostering the culture of innovation that is required to encourage long-term growth and development across industries. Instead, local authorities need to modernise and build digital transformation from the ground up, looking towards technology as a source of real and lasting innovation, rather than a financial burden with additional overhead.
A seamless approach
Moving forward, governments at all levels need to provide better ways for their citizens to interact with their services. The key to achieving this seamlessly lies in improving how these services are delivered, through effective management of back-office workflow, data capture and analytical capabilities.
This is where having a content service platform – which stretches across different departments and includes solutions for the capture and digitisation of information – can make a big difference. No matter where staff are based, this platform will provide a single point of access to all relevant information and documentation. It will also do the same for partners and citizens. In fact, most digital platforms can integrate with portals, or quickly create their own access points, in order to provide third parties with secure access to the information they need. These self-service capabilities will be integral as we look ahead to the UK’s recovery from COVID-19, particularly for improving service quality whilst reducing costs over the long term.
While progress is being made – the OpenText research suggests that 40% of local authorities have digitalised the majority (76-99%) of the information they store and manage for local citizens – it is obvious that government organisations still must address their technical debt and find ways to fund and embrace a new digital world. Recent months have brought to light more than ever before just how damaging out-of-date systems can be to overall productivity and even public health.
Though the pandemic has brought many challenges, there is also an opportunity amidst the disruption to rethink digitising processes. If the public sector restructures now and renews its focus on driving digital transformation, we can meet future challenges head-on. Local authorities can deliver on the promises of intelligent, agile and integrated services with seamless citizen experiences for the benefit of all.