It’s often said that the onset of the pandemic accelerated the digitalisation of services, and in the public sector we saw agencies perform superhuman feats and transformation to ensure they could stay connected to citizens and deliver services through digital channels.
But according to Adobe’s Practice Lead for Digital Strategy, John Mackenney, as the crisis slowly subsides (or stubbornly hangs on in some parts of Australia), it is becoming clear that for all of the hard work of 2020, there is still much more to be done – especially if the Australian Government is to achieve its goal of becoming one of the top 3 digital governments in the world by 2025.
Transformation is an ongoing task, not a project
Firstly, it’s wrong to equate ‘digital’ with ‘online’. Online is merely a channel – a front end to a digital process. It’s in the back end where digital transformation takes place.
“Whether that transformation is based on the replacement of systems, or encompasses complete service redesign, it’s wrong to point to one delivery channel and say the job is done,” Mackenney says. “True digital transformation enables service delivery on the consumer’s terms.
“For some tasks, they might want to self-service online. For others, they want to speak to someone. And for a select few, they might want to talk to someone face to face. Every one of these transactions can benefit from digital transformation at the back end.”
Secondly, he says digital government is not a field of dreams, and simply building it does not mean that ‘they’ will come. There are countless examples of commercial digital projects that have failed because they did not catch on with the public, and government is not magically exempt, simply because it is the sole provider or a service.
Simplicity in service design should always be the goal, but designers also need to be thinking about the education path for consumers, to ensure that those who are sceptical, confused, or downright lazy can see that the new digital options are simply a better way of dealing, and therefore more compelling than what they had before.
And thirdly, excellence in digital government should not come at the exclusion of those Australians who cannot participate in the digital revolution.
“The digital divide is still very real in Australia, and a sizeable segment of the population simply cannot transact online as readily as the rest of the population, for reasons of income, education, physical or mental ability, or a host of other reasons,” Mackenney says.
Being a top 3 digital government that leaves these citizens with a second-class experience would be a very hollow accomplishment.
Many representations of a digital core
The aim therefore in digital government should be to take a channel-agnostic approach, powered by digital capabilities, so that citizens get a superior experience regardless of which channel they use. And this comes about by connecting up the various systems of interaction and data.
In some ways, this means pulling apart the last 25 years of online and call centre development, which have tended to follow different development paths. Or perhaps more accurately, it means merging them together, so that the same service paths and personalised experiences can be made available through any channel.
Mackenney says the result for the citizen would be a fully-personalised, contextually relevant interaction – and one that might even span different channels for the same transaction. For example, a citizen might log into an agency’s online portal to apply for a permit. However, having logged in and found the right process, they might feel uncertain about how to fill in a specific field. The solution normally is to call someone.
“Today’s experience would see them needing to find the right number to call, navigate their way through an IVR, provide their identification, and then explain their query to a contact centre agent,” he says. “There is also a good chance the contact centre agent they reach in the first instance has no domain expertise, and hence they find themselves bounced to one or more additional agents.”
In a channel-agnostic digital experience, as soon as they identify themselves their most recent interactions can be called into play.
“The system determines that the citizen had been part way through completing a form and makes the intuitive leap to determine that action is the reason why they are calling, and routes them through to an appropriate contact centre agent,” Mackenney says. “Nine times out of ten this will save the citizen from wasting significant amounts of time explaining their situation and satisfies the need for a ‘tell me once’ level of service.”
Services that bridge the digital divide
Similarly, well-designed digital services can also be adapted for audio delivery using natural language processing and AI-driven interactions, meaning someone with sight or learning difficulties can interact with a digital system almost as easily as in a web-based environment. This brings a superior service experience to those people who cannot or will not use the visual internet. It also means those people for whom the telephone represents a superior or more affordable experience than a computer, tablet or smartphone can still enjoy a superior experience.
“These considerations should be looming large on the radar of agency chiefs who are tasked with helping the Australian Government meet its Top 3 goal,” Mackenney says.
By rethinking what it means to be digital, agencies have the opportunity to think about service delivery as suiting the needs of the citizen, rather than being an exercise in cost recovery. It demonstrates that the agency puts the needs or desires of the citizen first, and even enables a degree of empathy by allowing the citizen to be met on their terms through the channel of their choice, with no downgrading of service experience. And for highly complex interactions such as those related to a citizen’s financial wellbeing or health, that seems to be essential.
The future may well be digital, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be cold and emotionless.
To help enhance the citizen experience, Adobe commissioned Deloitte to create A blueprint for enhanced citizen experiences – a report that provides a roadmap for the delivery of simpler, smarter and more personalised government services. Download the free report here.