The SAP Institute for Digital Government (SIDG) will be hosting an executive roundtable in April on the topic of shared service delivery in the context of digital government. In particular we will be focussing on the topic of digital services and how organisations can leverage their existing service delivery investments. Following the roundtable, a discussion paper will be produced on the topic of digital shared services for both front and backend operations to be released in Q2. The following post reflects on some the previous transformational waves in service delivery and how digital technology provides a platform for a new wave of innovation.
Governments are constantly looking for ways to improve services delivered to citizens. Digital technologies are providing the opportunity for frictionless service delivery i.e. low touch and empowering for citizens. Digital service delivery represents the next iteration of transformational waves in government service delivery that began in the late 80s/early 90s. It is worthwhile to examine each of these waves and see how they have positioned organisations to take advantage of the digital environment.
Leveraging advances in technology (ICT), in particular telephony
From the late 1980s onwards there was a steady shift of customer traffic from offices to call centres. This shift facilitated access to a broad range of consumers, including those who found it difficult to access traditional offices. The cost of continued expansion of a physical network was prohibitive and beyond the resources of many government agencies. The shift to call centres also drove a need to increase the level of information maintained on individual clients and their circumstances. As the workload shifted from a local knowledgeable individual to a call centre staff member, digital information holdings became essential.
Consumer centric service delivery
Government offices can be intimidating places. There is a power-imbalance in the government-citizen relationship that was reinforced within government service points that were characterised by barriers and security bars. In the early 90s there was a change in approach within government offices. They became more open and inviting to facilitate a more relaxed and informal environment. Organisations began to experiment with new designs that were intended to welcome consumers and invite them to talk with government officials. This shift to a more open plan approach was often connected with an assumption that as consumers moved their simple business transactions to other channels, for instance telephony, the physical offices were expected to deal with more complex cases.
Specialised service delivery expertise
Service delivery began to be recognised in some countries as a specialised area of public policy which led to the creation of organisations that specialised in service delivery (e.g. Centrelink in Australia in 1997). These agencies split from policy agencies to allow each arm of government to focus on their specific challenges. Policy agencies were able to focus on policy design and program management, while service delivery agencies took advantage of emerging technologies and operating models to refine service delivery approaches.
Sharing of information between agencies
While some countries went down the path of dedicated service delivery agencies, the need for information sharing between all government organisations increased. Rising expectations for service delivery excellence simply could not be met by a single organisation. Organisations began to share data both to meet policy objectives and to simplify the consumer experience. As simple problems were addressed, it became clear that addressing the remaining complex or wicked problems required data exchange between multiple agencies. The issue of clients falling through the gap became a pressing issue for many government administrations.
New developments in service delivery under the title of digital disruption are building upon previous efforts in all four areas of transformation. However, digital disruption is bringing new capabilities to bear which allow connections between the four waves that previously have not been possible. Consumers are also raising their expectations for service delivery from government, based upon their experience in other sectors of the economy. Reducing the cost of service delivery is no longer enough. Citizens rightly expect that government will improve their service delivery experience and deliver better outcomes. They expect the services will be dynamic, proactive, and adjusted to their personal circumstances. The challenge that arises from these consumer expectations for governments is one of delivery. One response that is gaining interest is to examine a shared services approach, by leveraging emerging digital delivery capabilities. Shared services has been traditionally associated with backend corporate processes such as human resources and finance, whereas digital delivery capability is opening up an opportunity to adopt this approach for front office service delivery. This involves developing expertise in digital service design, and providing a digital infrastructure backbone that can be used by multiple organisations to focus around customer need rather than organisational structures. Core organisational barriers to innovation and transformation will also need to be addressed. Success will be achieved by harnessing the gains from the previous transformational waves, and taking advantage of the potential offered by digital capabilities.
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