SAN FRANCISCO — Thought leaders from the public and private sectors gathered on Nov. 3 to hone in on what it means to go digital and think about new ways of doing business.
In the public sector, that means taking government as a service to the next level, as “government has always been a service,” noted Nathan Shedroff, a design strategist for the California College of the Arts.
Shedroff, who moderated a panel on the topic at the CON.VERGE conference held in San Francisco’s Mission District, added that despite the fact that digital services have been around since at least the mid-'90s — and certainly by 2000 — there has recently been “an incredible upswing” in cities around the world, especially in the United States and the UK, adopting digital services.
The reason it’s taken so long for interest and significant investment in this space?
For Tom Loosemore, founder of the UK’s Government Digital Service, it’s a combination of very powerful forces coalescing, the first of which, he said, is that there are few things politicians can do that will both save money and improve the quality of services.
“And transforming services to make them digital is one of them,” Loosemore continued, adding that the second force is citizens’ expectation of public services to be simpler, more convenient, available 24/7 and in real time.
“I think thirdly, and actually this is quite possibly the most powerful force, there are too many people inside government who have had enough of the way things have worked over the last 20 years in most governments around the world,” he said, “which was a wholesale outsourcing, very tangled delivery with frankly a handful of very large vendors who got very, very good at milking the system.”
The sentiment in the U.S. is similar. Jeremy Goldberg, director of Innovation Partnerships for the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation, said that expectations may have changed in terms of citizens wanting things to happen quicker and be more available.
“But I really believe that expectations have always been there that, ‘You can do better than this.’ It’s just now there’s a bigger, broader platform to communicate and engage,” Goldberg said. “And from our perspective in the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation … we’re surrounded by an incredible amount of talent and skills, and people who want to give back and make the city a better place to live.”
For those who work in local government, he said, they see day in and day out when they’re not getting things done because they’re most often living where they work. “So you know when something’s not working, when it’s not on time.”
And that personal connection helps drive those working in local government to make it easier for people to submit their requests, and to be more responsive, efficient and effective.
From the perspective of Chris Averill with IT and software development company Globant, the drive for digitalization comes back to saving money. “Technology has the potential of doing that,” he said, “but if it’s not done right, it can become a massive inhibitor.”
But new people are coming into government and shaking things up, he said, and working to do things the right way. "It comes down to inspirational people who are willing to put their jobs on the line to make the change."