Governments are losing the trust of citizens. Public institutions need to focus on creating inclusive digital services, that put the user in control, in order to regain this trust. However, they typically need a group of ‘rebels’ with a vision - ideally with top-level political cover - to get the job done.
That’s the view of Casey Coleman, Salesforce’s SVP of Government Solutions, who sat down with me this week at the company’s Dreamforce event in San Francisco. I interviewed Coleman last year, where then she spoke about how if governments stand still on digital development, they risk losing legitimacy and credibility.
And it seems her prediction was accurate. This year, Coleman is citing a recent study by communications firm Edelman, in which it measures the trust of the American public in its largest institutions across media, business, non-profit and government. For government bodies, the public’s level of trust has fallen from 47 per cent last year, to 33 per cent this year - a drop of 14 points.
Trust in public sector or government is not not in a strong place right now.
You want to improve trust, strengthen trust - and that is done when the design is transparent. When it's collaborative. When it clearly puts control of one's data back with the citizen.
Coleman said that governments are struggle with their “technical debt”, and whilst some have recognised that moving to the cloud can help cut through that complexity, public sector organisations still need to ensure that they put their users at the centre. She gave an example of the New South Wales government in Australia, which is using Salesforce to provide a holistic view of child welfare management - putting the child at the centre, with organisations sharing data to remove existing silos.
However, Coleman also believes that future technologies may help improve the trust relationship between government and citizens. She cited the example of blockchain, which provide greater authenticity to how the public sector handles citizen data, as data cannot be altered in a distributed ledger. Coleman said:
I think a lot of interesting developments are going to kind of tip the balance toward the individual. Blockchain for example, or technologies like that, where have control of one's information. Or technologies that facilitate that and enable that kind of approach.
I mean I could see an environment where there's a digital assistant that you give authority to on a case by case basis, or for whatever span of permission you want to grant. So that kind of permission based service I think is going to become much more common. I think it's a good thing for, for trust.
During our conversation, Coleman cited the Salesforce use case of Cary, a town in North Carolina that is spearheading some incredibly interesting smart city initiatives through the use of the Salesforce platform and other cloud-based technologies. What’s interesting about Cary, Coleman explained, is that the group of people working in the public sector institutions have branded themselves as ‘gov rebels’. Coleman said that to drive change, governments and public sector organisations typically need a group of people that are willing to do things differently and rebel against the status quo. She said:
Culture change is vital and you need top-down leadership, the sort of top cover for people to feel empowered to make change. [But also, if you look at Cary] they have created a little team dynamic within the department there that they call ‘gov rebels’. Their branding there is to try and encourage a bit of creative reinvention to give people the boldness to make change and to let go of the previous way of doing things.
I think that creating a team of dynamic people, creating a culture of change, creating an awareness,, and partnering with the rest of the stakeholders, is important. Cary also has a a customer board that advises them on transformation ideas, so it's very inclusive.
They're trying to create a lot of different cultural dynamics for change, that is not about the technology, but about the fulfillment of services to the residents of the town.
Gov rebels, trailblazers, whatever you call them, there has to be someone who has a bit of a vision and understanding of the art of the possible, a willingness to step out and do something different. They need persistence to cut through all the constraints that hold us back.
What’s to come
Finally, in terms of what’s to come in the year ahead, Coleman is particularly excited about Salesforce’s recent acquisition of Mulesoft, as she believes it will be particularly useful for government organisations that have got hordes of data trapped in legacy systems. Extracting this data out via an integration platform such as Mulesoft could have untold benefits for the public sector, Coleman said.
I'm super excited about Mulesoft and what it brings to our public sector customers because all of our customers need to liberate their information and use it in new ways. They've got systems that span decades and it is very, very common to see mainframes and green screens and client servers and web apps and all of these technologies that are performing important work. They can't get rid of them. They can't function without them and there's a compliance role that they're playing, so they need to continue to fulfill that compliance and regulatory function.
But those older systems can't meet today's requirements that the public expects, that employees expect with, easy to use tools that are intuitive. So, liberating information and functionality out of those systems through Mulesoft into a engagement platform like Salesforce is very exciting.