Main content

Now is the time for the public sector to make citizen experience its North Star

Kam Patel Profile picture for user Kam Patel May 6, 2024
ServiceNow's Kam Patel makes a case for modernization in the public sector - by keeping the experience of citizens as a priority.

Digital Transformation Concept © AndreyPopov -
(© AndreyPopov -

The UK public sector is on a mission to digitally transform, under ambitious plans laid out in the 2022-25 Roadmap for Digital and Data. With citizens now expecting government service to be as simple as the food delivery order they place on their phone, it’s clear that digital transformation projects can only be successful when centered on the citizen experience. Citizens don’t want to deal with complicated bureaucracy - they want digital experiences which provide the answers they need, with all the complexity hidden from them, just as it is in the consumer world. Today, this sort of citizen-first approach is essential for any government transformation project.

The first step in this journey is to offer unified experiences. Citizens must be able to find answers without the need to decipher which department or office they need to go through. IT services should be built around what citizens actually want to achieve. For instance, when you hail an Uber, you instantly see where your driver is and when you will be dropped off. There is no reason government departments can’t offer the same level of service. Sadly, the reality today is that citizen experience is too often an afterthought, resulting in friction, frustration and disengagement.

Much like brands take a consumer-first approach, government organizations need to take a citizen-first approach. Digitizing outdated processes and offering self-service options, for example, help citizens access services in a simple, rapid and frictionless way, personalized to them. The employee experience is also crucial in this process, as they must be engaged and empowered to deliver these services. This combined approach helps to build trust in government and increase transparency, not to mention delivering significant cost savings.

The benefits of modernizing

In government, the problem is often ageing infrastructure, from applications written in archaic programming languages to expensive, on-premise systems. A Cabinet Office report on digital delivery found that almost 50% of government IT spend is dedicated to maintaining ‘outdated legacy systems’. Modernizing legacy infrastructure offers government departments an enormous opportunity to drive efficiencies and improve citizen experience. The first step is to consolidate data silos, which are often a hallmark of legacy government systems: moving these to a single cloud platform can break down the bureaucracy that frustrates citizens, enabling real-time information sharing.

Transitioning from manual to digital processes can help to accelerate citizen experience, replacing complex, multi-step, paper-based journeys with a unified data model which allows users to see where a request stands. This enables citizens to access services where they want, such as on their smartphones, rather than in government buildings, and when they want, i.e. outside of limited hours of operation.

Technology does not simply allow organizations to deliver better experiences to citizens: it improves the employee experience, empowering workers to deliver better results, while also feeling happier and less frustrated. Too often, public sector employees spend their time on tedious, repetitive tasks. A recent report revealed that automation technologies can save employees an average of 3.6 hours a week, equating to a minimum of one working month a year. Technology can help to break these chains, freeing up employees to focus on higher-value tasks, which in-turn benefits the citizen experience.

Unlocking the value of government data

Government agencies have historically been so slow to respond to citizen requests because it’s challenging for employees to find the information that citizens are looking for. Generative AI chatbots can ingest huge amounts of data and content rapidly, presenting it either to employees or directly to citizens in a conversational format. Across the organization, this helps to improve user experiences and simplify tasks and streamline workflows for employees. They also offer a greater degree of continuity, providing round-the-clock support outside of traditional offices hours, therefore minimizing downtime.

Generative AI interfaces, that visualize AI systems, are also helping to accelerate digital transformation efforts, especially when combined with low-code and no-code applications. The ability for non-technical development, where ordinary business users can create applications, helps public sector organizations drive towards the goal of being citizen-first. By empowering more people in government departments to build basic digital workflows, highly trained developers can be freed up to focus on more complex, mission-centric applications.

That being said, public sector leaders must proceed with caution and use generative AI responsibly. Citizens always need to know when they are interacting with a bot, and public sector leaders should start small, closely monitoring their AI models for bias. That said, they must engage with this technology now, failing to do so puts public sector organizations at risk of falling behind. We’re well aware that generative AI has huge potential to accelerate digital transformation, and citizens will come to expect more intelligent services in the coming months and years.

Customers in control

Consumers are used to being in control of experiences, whether that is ordering a new television or receiving technical support online. Interacting with the government should have the same feeling. Organizations need to create customer and employee experiences where people are in control, aided by easy-to-use cloud-based tools. Research by McKinsey found that successful digital transformations in the public sector are those that are human-centric. Those transformations use mechanisms focused on employee wellness 1.6 times more often than unsuccessful ones, and use real-time data 1.5 times more often, highlighting the importance of delivering information rapidly to citizens.

To enable this, public sector leaders must frequently track user journey and satisfaction to understand if they are delivering the right experiences. Rather than ROI, the goal of public sector leaders must be measurable improvements in citizen experience. In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) demonstrated how focusing on both the employee and citizen experience can yield rewards across the organization. DEFRA brought six critical citizen applications in-house, onboarding 40% more agents remotely and improving morale and productivity by halving call times.

Putting the citizen first

Public sector leaders must put themselves in citizens’ shoes and drive a journey that is as seamless, efficient and transparent as digital processes in the consumer world.

Key to this is moving data to the cloud and delivering efficient, transparent services, with citizens no longer having to puzzle over which department they should be dealing with. Instead, a single, self-service ‘pane of glass’ connects them to the services and the knowledge they are looking for. Embracing new technologies such as generative AI will enable public sector leaders to speed up app development and deliver rapid responses to citizens. Over time, citizen-centered transformation will help battle budget deficits, create a happier public, as well as building trust and confidence in government as a whole.

A grey colored placeholder image