Digital transformation is one of those terms that gets discussed a lot in IT circles, but seems to mean different things to different people. For the public sector, it defines how new technologies can be used to help citizens access services more quickly and more easily. However, these new services have to be thought about for all audiences and for all occasions.
Changing over to digital services – either as a replacement for existing services, or to complement them with new channels – aims to speed up service delivery and reduce costs. Supporting these projects involves making sure that everyone continues to get what they need. This includes looking into edge cases and areas where people may have problems. By considering these issues from the start, we can ensure that digital transformation projects continue to deliver good results.
How digital services can meet more citizen needs
In July this year, the Local Digital team (established by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) published the Local Digital Declaration, an initiative for the UK local government sector. The Local Digital Declaration is based on a set of principles for local government bodies to adhere to when putting together digital services, based on a combination of good service, integration, security around individuals’ data, and strong leadership. Most of all, the Declaration encourages organisations to listen to their customers’ needs, provide the services that they need, and deliver them in ways that suit them.
Digital transformation projects are essential to delivering new services, based on how to ‘prioritise citizen and user needs above professional, organisational and technological silos.’ With an aging population and a wider range of requirements to support than ever before, following this guidance will require a good deal of thought. Whether these services will be delivered via a website, a chatbot, telephone, email, social media or postal service – or a mix of all these channels – embedding support for citizens throughout these channels will be essential.
This emphasis on support links with another principle of the declaration that states: ‘we will design safe, secure and useful ways of sharing information to build trust among our partners and citizens, to better support the most vulnerable members of our communities and to target our resources more effectively.’ This element of trust is easy to overlook, but it is essential over time. Without this trust in digital, public sector bodies will see citizens look for other ways that they can access these services, defeating the point of these roll-outs in the first place.
In order to deliver these new services to customers, we have to consider how those digital channels will have support built in from the start, and how these support channels should be connected into our overall service management. Without this preparation, it will be difficult to bolt on support afterwards. This will have an adverse impact on those who need support the most, at the time when they really require help.
Supporting services and service support
For organisations in the public sector deploying new digital services, thinking about how users might access support during their interactions can help. By considering the combination of how services can be delivered – and equally, what might need to happen if those services are not working effectively – public sector bodies can meet their user requirements more effectively.
For example, transferring services on to a new Internet-based channel via a website should be simpler to add support to using channels like email or live chat. These kinds of support options are common, so they can extend easily alongside those new digital services. However, for services delivered via mobile devices – either via a browser or as an app – support might not be considered from the start. For services that get delivered via kiosks or other form factors, support may be a lot more difficult to design in from the start.
Analysing support and service together should help to improve the overall service by putting the team in the user’s shoes. By contemplating what the user wants alongside how the user will react if something goes wrong, digital services can be designed so that it is easier to manage support requests from the start.
This thinking should take the knowledge and experience of the user into consideration too. For instance, those using a digital service website will probably be familiar with other websites and their support offerings. Chatbots and live chat sessions are becoming more and more popular. Using a chatbot as part of the digital service would be a natural step, as would using live chat.
For new channels like mobile apps and kiosks, the support conundrum can be more difficult. Lack of Internet connectivity can hamper delivering a service; equally, it can stop someone getting help when they need it most. Making self-service available via these devices can only succeed if those devices can be kept running, and any issue can be reported quickly.
For mobile apps, embedding support within the application should be about more than providing email addresses or phone numbers to call. Instead, the app should be able to link the citizen account to the issue directly, so the support team can respond faster and with all the information they need available from the start. This kind of data is essential to provide that good user experience, but equally it has to be kept secure from the start. This is a good example of why service and support has to be embedded from the beginning, rather than an afterthought.
By thinking about issues that might delay or stop these services – a malfunctioning printer, say, or loss of internet service – you can design ways that these devices can report on issues back. Alternatively, you can use some of the same automation steps to keep those self-service devices running. For example, embedding a support service into the kiosk that can use chatbot-style automated responses for customers can help remove some of the more common issues too.
Looking ahead around the digital public sector
To make these new digital services successful, it’s important to collaborate. Getting the existing support team together with the digital and subject matter experts at the start can help everyone understand the goals that these kinds of projects have in place, as well as offering opportunities to discuss particular issues around sensitive data.
Using the Local Digital Declaration is a great opportunity to start thinking about how changes in public sector can be delivered. It can also provide good opportunities to build these good practices in from the start. By considering support and service together, public sector organisations can meet their goals around digital transformation over time.
Callum Sherwood is public sector specialist at Freshworks