Every citizen is an individual, so why do government agencies not treat them that way? The history of government IT has traditionally been one of systems being created in isolation, designed to perform a specific task with little thought given to how they might interact.
As a result, information regarding any one individual might be spread across potentially dozens of different repositories.
This has made drawing a fuller picture of that individual citizen a fiendishly difficult task, and has led to the creation of generic service offerings with little personalisation.
This might be the way things have always been, but the world is evolving rapidly, and people’s expectations are evolving too.
In recent years commercial digital service providers have embraced using data to deliver personalised services, and consumers have rewarded them in turn.
Is it surprising then that citizens might also now hold the same expectations of their digital interactions with government agencies?
Last year was a terrible one for many Australians, but a silver lining can be found in 2020 also being the year when the digitalisation of services accelerated rapidly. This change was clearly seen in the commercial world, where organisations turned to digital channels to survive, and consumers met them there in record numbers.
A similar story can also be told for government services. The recent report released by Deloitte and commissioned by Adobe, titled A Blueprint for Enhanced Citizen Experiences, found there were more than 1.7 billion visits to Australian Government websites after the pandemic began, and that 56 per cent of Australians preferred to access government information using digital channels.
The report also found nine out of ten Australians looked for government information and services online, with people aged 15-and-over transacting with government on average more than once a week.
This is great news for those departments and agencies who have long understood the cost benefits of digital interaction.
But if we are to capitalise on the gains of 2020, we must do more than just lift-and-shift existing services to online channels. We need to take a human-centric approach to how government services are designed, and use digital tools to build services that are fundamentally better than what that has gone before.
For many agencies, that means rethinking the structure and boundaries that have constrained service development, and bring together data sources to build a more complete picture of individuals.
A good starting point is to consider the nature of interactions between citizens and government as they currently stand. For a citizen to achieve a seemingly simple task such as changing their address requires them to contact multiple agencies and provide the same information over and over again.
This fractured representation of government is a long way from the experience they receive from commercial service providers. Imagine for instance if an online supermarket required you to pay for your meat, fresh vegetables, and dairy items separately, rather than in a consolidated transaction at checkout.
Linking up specific services to create better outcomes means overcoming multiple technological challenges, not least of which are nailing down identity and clearing security and regulatory hurdles, while also satisfying privacy requirements.
Bringing together citizen data creates the potential to better understand each individual and provide them with experiences and services that are directly relevant to their situation and needs.
The Deloitte study found that 76 per cent of respondents said they would be more likely to use government websites if they were personalised and tailored to their unique digital profile, and 81 per cent were more likely to use a government service if it remembered their previous interactions across all government websites, as well as their location and demographics.
This would not only make interactions quicker and easier, but it might also pave the way for higher-value services, such as alerting citizens when they qualified for rebates, or when they were in danger from natural disasters or other events.
Government agencies have long been aware of efficiencies that can flow from shifting services to online channels, and the events of 2020 have only served to highlight the urgency with which they should move.
Firstly, the enforced lockdowns drove consumers to use online services in unprecedented numbers, and in many cases people who had never shopped online now found themselves doing so. Overall familiarity with online services is consequently much higher than it was a year ago.
Secondly, the connection between Australian citizens and government agencies has strengthened, in part due to people’s high reliance on agencies for information and assistance throughout the crisis. The Australian government now has a golden opportunity to capitalise on this good will.
These two developments provide the ideal catalyst for the design of services that are easier to use and improve outcomes for citizens. But first we need to ensure the barriers that prevent data sharing can be torn down.
Read the latest research report from Deloitte and Adobe to examine the way that Australians engage with government online – learn the benefits of personalisation to citizens and government, and explore a practical roadmap for implementation.