Government innovation should be intrinsic at every level


Innovation can happen in all corners of government, and grassroots ideas can quickly sprout, helping build an inclusive culture of learning and critical thinking, says Salesforce’s Gavin Mee.

Gavin Mee

Imagine you take the recycling outside, only to find your wheelie bin is nowhere to be seen – missing, and likely presumed stolen.

But instead of a laborious call to your local council, where you’re punching in numbers to get through to the right department – only to be placed on hold – you can report the issue in a matter of seconds without having to log in to anything.

How? By telling the interactive speaker in your home. Almost instantly, a voice informs you that the bin will be replaced and delivered in a couple of days.

Sound like something from distant future? Actually, AI-enabled learning technology means it could very soon be an everyday reality. In fact, innovative councils like Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) are testing this approach today.

According to Andrew Grant, CEO, Aylesbury Vale District Council, this sort of AI-driven approach is the next wave in offering citizens a great customer experience – enabling them to engage services easily and via the channel which suits them best.

Innovative thinking like this is beginning to bake itself into the government at every level. And it has to – while rolling budget cuts continue across the board, citizen expectation is on the up. The government has had to rethink service delivery and engagement models, and in many instances it is looking at private sector innovation for inspiration.

Government agencies are recognising that innovation doesn’t just rest on implementing new technologies. It’s about truly understanding citizens and tailoring service delivery, much the same way that the private sector has focused on enhancing customer experience – whether at enterprise level, or disruptive players entering the market. The technology becomes a vehicle for innovation, but it isn’t the only factor.

Supporting skills development

This is evident in the Government Digital Strategy announced earlier this year. With digital transformation strategies reaching maturity across many departments, we can’t overlook the importance of a skilled digital workforce driving continued innovation and future-proofing the UK’s position as a digital leader.

While it’s great to see the current government emphasis on skills development, a recent report from the National Audit Office estimates that an additional 2,000 staff will be required in digital roles within the next five years, at an estimated annual cost between £145 million and £244 million. But with many more transformation projects in the pipeline, the feeling is that the skills shortage will be far higher.

We need to see better and simpler integration opportunities between public and private sector. It boils down to a genuinely holistic approach to the development of STEM skills. What does this mean?

Well, while it’s great to see the government committing to this area, I believe that we – the entire digital sector – have a huge role to play. We should be empowering all workers, regardless of age or industry, to use technology to solve business issues. It’s about putting the tools and resources in their hands to boost digital literacy, and offering equal and attractive opportunities in both private and public sectors.

Agents of change

What if those at the helm of delivering services had the power to design and roll out the most meaningful digital solutions themselves, rather than leaning on the IT function? We are starting to see this at both central and local government level. Embracing cloud technologies can be key in driving agile, mobile by design service delivery.

Given the right governance controls, drag-and-drop development tools can help service providers to solve their own business problems. After all, they are the ones who understand the unique challenges within their remit, and the needs of the citizens they serve.

Bolton College is a brilliant example of this. As part of its mission to deliver evolving education options, the college now offers students more vocational learning and apprenticeships. But by offering more options, last year alone it received more than 7,000 applications for apprenticeships.

For the Business and Enterprise team, that’s 7,000 PDFs to download, and 7,000 sets of data entry. In response to this, they are currently building an app which will enable them to link applicants to prospective placements easily and accurately. Those behind it don’t have a developer background.

But, by tapping into community forums and following app templates, they’ve got the know-how to create something with real value. Grassroots innovation doesn’t have to mean heavy investment in new technologies – it can be really simple, with great outcomes.

Small changes, big impact

At central government level this type of thinking can have huge reach, improving services for millions of citizens.

For instance, while the DVLA continues to roll out a successful digital transformation strategy, it’s currently planning the next wave of service improvements. With over 1.1 million contacts from customers per month, this is no mean feat. But by integrating services, whether web to case solution or telephony systems with Salesforce Service Cloud, the DVLA is able to roll out new and improved functionality in a matter of days. In fact, the DVLA recognises that one of its key forces in innovation is its staff.

And it doesn’t stop there. Through a dedicated ideas app, the team can capture and contribute new ideas for improvement. These ideas are rated and discussed online, before being put into production. This insight from the frontline of service delivery ensures that new services are rolled out quickly and effectively, with a truly customer centric approach.

Making a change for good

There’s no question that public sector in general remains saddled with legacy systems and thinking, the notion of innovation can be daunting. But when you take a step back and shine a spotlight on some leading central and local government examples, one thing becomes very clear: innovation can happen in all corners, and grassroots ideas can quickly sprout, helping build an inclusive culture of learning and critical thinking. And even more importantly, learning from the private sector and applying those successful programmes and services to local and national government can dramatically overhaul the citizen experience.

In order for the UK government to secure its position as a global digital leader, now is the time to innovate at every level. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

Image credit - Salesforce