We live in a digital era, and when it comes to accessing services, Australians are overwhelmingly expressing their preference for digital interaction.
But successful digital service delivery requires more than just migrating an existing process on to a web page. It means understanding and harnessing the benefits of the digital channel.
And one of the key benefits is the ability to deliver personalisation at scale.
Being able to recognise individual users and match them to their histories and volunteered attributes is commonplace amongst commercial service providers and is a guiding principle of the world’s most successful digital businesses.
It is an attribute that government agencies also need to adopt quickly.
Deloitte’s 2021 report A blueprint for enhanced citizen experiences, commissioned by Adobe, found a massive increase in digital interaction between Australian government agencies and citizens since the start of the pandemic, with the report identifying more than 1.7 billion government website visits. The report also found that 56 per cent of Australians now prefer to access government information via digital channels.
For government, this presents a strong case for pursuing digital delivery.
But importantly, the Adobe and Deloitte report found that three in four Australians would be equally or more likely to use government websites if they were personalised.
According to the report’s co-author, Deloitte Access Economics partner John O’Mahony, previous research had uncovered significant cost benefits through increased use of digital delivery. The 2015 Adobe and Deloitte Access Economics report Digital Government Transformation, found the cost per transaction for face-to-face engagements was $16.90, compared to just $0.40 for online.
At the time of that report’s release the volume of transactions was measured at 811 million, with 40 per cent conducted using traditional channels. If that figure could be reduced to 20 per cent it over a ten-year period it would yield productivity, efficiency, and other benefits to government worth around $17.9 billion, along with savings in time, convenience and out-of-pocket costs to citizens worth a further $8.7 billion.
O’Mahony believes personalisation is critical to enhancing citizen uptake of digital services. Critically however, he says a lack of personalisation is responsible for 50 per cent of people reporting inconsistencies in information across different government sources.
“If services aren’t personalised it is adding to government cost, and obviously it is making it difficult to achieve time savings,” O’Mahony says. “And if you don’t have services that are tailored to individuals then often you will find that people will move between channels.”
And this in turn raises costs.
But personalisation also promises another benefit that is often overlooked, in terms of its ability to help close Australia’s widening digital divide.
The ability to recognise a citizens attributes and history can also be used to take into account their digital skills and access preferences. For example, knowing someone is visually or hearing impaired can lead to information being presented in ways they can more easily consume, while acknowledging an individual’s digital literacy might result in information being provided with enhanced navigation aids.
There is an economic argument here also
If more people are transacting online than over-the-counter, then the cost of providing over-the-counter services increases as that number approaches zero. And while it is unlikely that all citizens will transact all services online, government agencies must strike a balance whereby the greater number of people can comfortably transact digitally, if only to keep their costs down.
Or as O’Mahony says: “Maintaining traditional channels while increasing investment in digital is a recipe for higher costs.”
Inconsistent information delivery arising from non-personalised services carries an additional risk, in the form of eroded trust in government itself.
“This research has found that trust is the number one driving factor for citizens seeking information,” O’Mahony says. “Governments that deliver better services are far more likely to have higher levels of trust amongst the citizenry. But one of the biggest frustrations is being unable to find information, or it being inconsistent between sources, and that will shift people to looking at intermediaries to find information.”
Increased adoption of personalisation amongst public sector agencies will also be critical if the Australian Government is to achieve the objectives stated in its 2018 Digital Transformation Strategy Update, whose priorities included creating a government that’s easy to deal with, informed by ‘you’ (the citizen), and fit for the digital age.
And finally, one of the key reasons why citizens might demand greater personalisation is actually of the government’s own making. The Consumer Data Right and its enactment through open banking and in other industries is educating consumers to take a greater interest in their data and how it can be put to work them.
Commercial organisations are responding through the creation of more personalised engagements based on the information consumers are sharing.
So should citizens have any less of an expectation of government agencies?
Governments exist to service their citizens. The relationship between government and citizens will always benefit if agencies are meeting people where they want to be met, and not putting roadblocks between them and what they are trying to achieve.
So while the words have been spoken many times and in many reports, now is the time to take action.
Or as O’Mahony says: “I know that changing culture to focus more on citizens is a bit of a cliché, but it is very important.”