From funding to jobs, medicine, health and education, digitisation is completely transforming how the public service looks, explains Paul Kirby, KPMG’s global head of government.
I think that when we look back in 10 years’ time, we will think that digital was the big transformation.
In the United Kingdom, we have massive spending cuts in public services but I still think that when people look back they will think that it was the digital transformation that made the biggest difference. Firstly that is an acceleration of what we already know. We have had e-government for 10 years. Putting transactions online but actually, in many cases, we’ve usually still got all of the other ways of doing business as well so we have face to face, telephone and other channels. The greater acceleration of shifting to the digital channels. But to a degree, a lot of e-government was just putting the same old services online and switching the mode of access. I think digital is much more profound than that.
What we are beginning to see in the UK is now people thinking about how medicine will be completely different. Actually digital medicine begins to give you the opportunity to know with analytics for example, genetic sequencing of the population which is starting now, to know about them as individuals, that you can predict a lot about their health. You can also see how particular medications work with particular patients. And you begin to learn much more information about what works but also how to personalise treatments to people, so that they kind of get the right things.
But of course you are giving not just doctors and medics more information but also the patient themselves. As you bring in, as we are seeing now, wearable sensors and technology that people can see themselves what is happening with their health and what is happening with the interventions, you are giving the person much more control over their health and you can begin to see that going out into human services, into social care and so on. And the technology is really beginning to change the whole nature of both the treatments, but who is in control, better information and better analytics.
You can flip that across into education. It is very hard to imagine that universities as we know them now will exist in 10 years’ time. When instead of everybody doing lectures, you can really have the best people in the world doing the best lectures online. When you look at virtual campuses that are being created now. You look at people being able, in the top universities in the world, the MITs for example, to choose their own degree courses based on the modules that they take online with the best people. When you look at assessment being instantaneous and in real time as opposed to at the end of programs. When you look at the fact that, libraries look pretty redundant because information is again online and you simply begin to ask why do you need so many universities all doing their own thing? Why do you all need to employ so many teachers? You can really feel this groundswell changing and it is absolutely fundamental.
And not only is it health and education but if you go into the administrative services. Not only going online but also changing the transactions. So what I see now in the UK, the public sector, the government is hiring in the very best digital people out of telcos, out of Google, to come in. They are bringing a totally different mindset which is not how do you get your stuff to people, but what are people’s digital lives like? If you are in a telco, you have got to know how young people live in their phone, you have got to think I can only get their attention if I can do something attractive, interactive, it’s fun.
So we see people in the UK government now hiring the best people out of the computer games industry, thinking if we can’t introduce games into our public services, we’ve got no chance of getting people’s attention, engaging them, making it stimulating. Actually when we bring computer games into job search for the unemployed, suddenly it is a totally different world. For a long time, we thought, well, the digital divide, how will we engage with these poor people? They can’t do technology. And it is obviously complete nonsense.
These are the lives that people are leading and actually government is largely irrelevant to that. So just opening up whole new ways of engaging with people and transacting and doing business is quite fascinating. And of course people are living in social worlds, social media. Just again to stick to the example of job search. In the UK at the moment, it is very much about the government providing information on jobs, meeting a jobs counsellor, a one-to-one interaction but actually what is obvious is the best way to deal with this is to click into the social world that people live in and the networks.
How do you engage with them through their Facebook communities? How do you form new communities with other people who are searching jobs? How do you insert a mentor from business into that world? And the same with people who are offenders and so on. It just feels like it is opening up a whole new exciting world and I think that is what will transform everything. The truth is that you can’t yet get it wrong because it’s new but it is transformational.
Just a really simple example, even next year in the UK, I think we will have a new rule in the national government (the equivalent of the APS) that IT contracts cannot be for more than AUD3 million and they cannot last for more than 18 months. If I contrasted that with the current IT contract in the Tax Department which is a seven year contract for AUD20 billion, that would give the sense of the change. And just the fact that the world is changing quickly. Already in the UK government, people have to buy their applications through the government cloud store. They can’t buy them for more than a year, they pay-per-use.
It used to be, I think, in IT that everybody lost heart because when you wanted to do something you had to build your own brewery. You would get a big international firm and they would come along for hundreds of millions of dollars. They would create you a system with a year specifying the system, a year buying gear, two years building and in year four, it would arrive. And either the world had moved on or it wasn’t quite right. Then you would start again. And actually now things are being produced in 30 days, 60 days, and then they are tried, piloted and then scaled up and go live in different ways. Just using off-the-shelf software, the types of things which people are creating for teenagers, like the type of thing used among teenagers for dating, are becoming the technologies that people are applying in adult social services.
This whole world is kind of going crazy and exciting, and is probably, I think, the most dynamic time I have ever predicted in the public services, right around the world. And the good thing about technology is that it travels. In the same way that it did in the private sector, in our social lives, the same digital technology travels really well in the public sector. So the chance for people to copy from Australia to the UK, from Peru to the US, and to adopt things quickly, use them, find something better, move on, onto something different. I mean, what a range of change we are up for.
I think that there is a couple of years where everyone is too nervous about this and it will go quite slowly, and then I think, the floodgates will open.
Read more: UK Open Public Services White Paper