Governments going digital – and what people expect from it

Governments going digital - and what people expect from it

The ‘digital’ conversation is one that’s been going on for quite some time.

Since it began, new technologies have continued to emerge and older ones have either matured or disappeared. For human beings – as digital-reliant citizens, consumers and communities – many of the same concerns, challenges and opportunities have persisted since digital first became a part of our lives.

So how do we unpack the idea of ‘digital transformation’, or the ability of digital technology to transform the way the public sector operates and delivers services to citizens?

Source: ‘Citizen.nxt: Digital innovations and changing demographics are redefining government by the people, for the people’. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Paper

As we approach 2020 and the 100 billion devices predicted to be connected by that time, this ecosystem of ever-smarter gadgets will have an inevitable impact on government service delivery.

As ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr recently said in his State of the Territory address for 2017: “Digital is at the forefront of many government reforms,” and the ACT is embracing this kind of innovation.

I recently attended the 2017 Navigating Digital Government Summit, where insights into how technology is transforming the customer experience and what this means for the way government operates and interacts with citizens were shared.

The event was attended by ministers, government officials, subject-matter experts and industry leaders who discussed policy issues, trends, challenges and opportunities related to the increasing use of emergent artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. These include machine learning, cognitive analysis, neural networking and natural language processing, and can be applied across various sectors of the economy, such as finance, government, health diagnostics and defence.

While some participants focused on the need to align these new technologies to human practices and behaviours, others emphasised the urgent need for Australian governments to embrace AI-based technologies to meet citizen expectations.

The summit focused on four key themes:

  • Machine learning and the implications for customer experience in service access and delivery;
  • The role of governments in emerging new service-delivery paradigms;
  • Driving better outcomes and reducing service delivery costs; and
  • Citizen trust and confidence in new AI technologies.

The day was full of interesting insights, three of which really piqued my interest:

1. Consumers have high expectations for government

Source: ‘Connected Community, Connected Government – Opportunities for e-Services Delivery in the ACT’, ACT Government Paper

Dan Bogner, Senior Vice President of APAC Solutions Engineering at Salesforce, referenced Techcrunch in his presentation: “The future of customer service is making it easy for consumers to go through the medium they want, to have an experience that respects their time and have issues resolved quickly, ideally without involving a human at all (via intelligent software).”

Citizens are demanding the same high levels of online service delivery (including timeliness and efficiency) from governments as they currently receive from private-sector industries such as banking, retail and travel. They interact with governments when their circumstances change, so they expect these interactions to be trusted and empathetic, not static.

2. Machine learning will be used to solve complex challenges

In the future, mobile devices will remain at the centre of our increasingly monitored lives, while augmented reality will increase in significance (think Pokémon Go and Google Glass), haptic/tactile reality will emerge to turn vibratory information (forces, vibrations or motions) into visual or audible information, and SMS technology that enables two-way conversations will emerge as a more commonly used channel for government communication. AI will help to solve complex global challenges such as those related to the environment, transportation and health by identifying complex cause-and-effect relationships.

Importantly, these technologies can benefit people with disabilities, and governments should adopt early, wide consultation with these groups to ensure choice and control for the disabled.

There has already been ground-breaking work done by the National Disability Insurance Agency, which used technology to deliver targeted and fit-for-purpose accessibility tools for those with a range of disabilities, including cognitive and neurological challenges. This included the creation of the virtual assistant ‘Nadia’, the formation of an e-marketplace designed for and with people with disabilities, and the creation of a new innovation hub that tests and trials emerging technologies to stimulate industry solution development.

3. Government has a leadership role in digital transformation. Its biggest challenge is scale

The Australian government has pledged to future-proof the country, to drive higher economic growth and improve standards of living. Riding the wave of technology-led disruption, agility and innovation will be key. But this also means that the way governments deliver services will inevitably have to change.

Government agencies cannot simply throw more resources at the exponentially increasing problem of service delivery – they need to work cooperatively with each other and with industry to make it easier to use vast data collections.

Policy makers need to begin preparing societies for the changes afoot by considering how they can best benefit from AI while minimising the risks associated with discrimination, privacy erosion and loss of anonymity.

Governments have a particular role to play in ensuring the transparency and understanding of new technologies so citizens can ultimately have confidence in the system.

The biggest challenge now will be remaining human in an increasingly dynamic digital world.

With the ACT on board with digital transformation, how do you see other governments following suit?

Each week a staff member puts pen to paper to write about an aspect of content communication that speaks to them, and hopefully, informs you. This is a space where our passion for writing, learning and sharing information comes to shine.

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