Rising to the digital challenge

04 March 2015

Public services never stand still. In recent years, a squeeze on public spending in many countries has meant that attention has turned towards the opportunities of digital technology to improve public service delivery, deliver higher productivity and better outcomes while at the same time reducing costs. But does the public sector have the capacity and capabilities in place to make the most of digital?

Digital is fast evolving and is having an impact right across the board. There is a new generation of consumers who want ever more accessible, portable, flexible and customised products, services and experiences. They expect to move seamlessly in real time between the physical and virtual worlds.

With affordable government the new reality, public agencies need to respond and embrace digital technology as a tool to drive innovation, transform how they engage with citizens, foster the interaction of citizens with each other and explore how outcomes can be better secured, resulting in innovative and effective public services.

The appreciation of the integral role that technology plays across business sectors is evident in our Government and the Global CEO: 58% of the CEOs surveyed are concerned about the speed of technological change (47% last year), with the response rising to 64% for state backed CEOs.

Like private sector businesses, there is great potential to create much value from digital (see Figure). In terms of operational efficiency, digital offers the opportunity for greater self-service, customisation of services and automation of transactions such as benefits and pensions, for those with access to the technology. If electronic records e.g. for patients and social security, can be shared across agencies, not only can duplicative costs be saved, but also a better service can be offered. And sharing services means that they can be offered more cheaply on the front line.

Figure: CEO views on driving value from digital

Digitital blog
Digital technology is also opening up new opportunities to involve citizens in the design and delivery of services and co-produce outcomes. The world of education is providing a real time illustration of the impact of digital, where it is transforming not only the back office but has become central to the student experience, creating connected classrooms with learning analytics being used to improve the achievement of individual learners.

The impact of the convergence of digital technologies can be particularly seen at city level. The diffusion of smart personal devices, data sharing platforms and cloud computing is allowing innovative ways of engaging business and the public to deliver better outcomes, as cities make local data on services (e.g. water and transport flows, planning, the built environment, parking and waste collection) freely available to develop new applications. One prime example is the use of geospatial data to map demand and improve commissioning for outcomes in areas such as health and schools.

Of course, there are risks and threats as well. As we discovered in last year’s survey, there is still a lack of digital capacity and capability in many organisations. There is also an important balance to be found between the rights of the individual to privacy and confidentialitywith the benefits to sharing information. Indeed, there are often limitations on the ability to share data for different purposes: data provided by an individual or business to one public agency is frequently done under terms and conditions which mean that it cannot be automatically shared with another agency without prior consent.

To make the most of the opportunities, but also manage the risks, public sector organisations therefore need to develop a clear vision, strategy and plan to get the most value out of their digital investments. Public bodies also need to develop their capacity and capability in terms of data collection, management and analytics in order to produce the quality insight and intelligence required to underpin their strategies and plans and to make more informed and evidence based policy and operational decisions. 

Indeed, public agencies do not need digital strategies: they need strategies for the digital age, in combination with the appropriate controls to ensure organisations and departments are responsible, accountable and delivering real value for money.

Neel Ratan  |  Global leader, Digital Government Network
Profile | Email |  + 91 124 4620540



I agree with you that Digital technologies is opening new digital investments for the citizens.

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