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"When Government Is Easy, Government Is More Popular"

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At Fujitsu, we believe that digital transformation in the public sector should be about delivering wider access to services, support and information.

Attitudes to government were already changing before COVID-19 appeared. And when it did, it emphasized just how vital the public sector is to society and the well-being of all of us. Simply, the pandemic has accelerated the need for ever more effective government. And that’s why digital transformation in the public sector is so important.

Of course, the debate about what we mean by "effective government" and its scope continues. Views differ on how much government there should be. In some countries, the U.K. for instance, research shows that people are more supportive of the kind of intervention that the government has found itself making during the pandemic.1 In the United States many would disagree with that. In Canada there are differences too. But, as the American social reformer, Henry Ward Beecher, put it way back in 1862, “Public sentiment is to public officers what water is to the wheel of the mill.” In other words, what citizens think about government drives how government evolves. The simple truth is that citizens' attitudes and consent underpin the legitimacy of the public sector. And attitudes are driven by actions.

AMAZON FOR AND BY THE PEOPLE

The revolution in how we live, shop and navigate the world has led to a deep desire for convenience, simplicity, transparency, and let’s be honest, instant gratification. Many commentators on government use the phrase "Amazon-like services" to describe what their DX projects are aiming to deliver. The idea is simple: When you need something from the government, or the government wants to engage with you, it should be just as easy as clicking a few links on Amazon and having whatever it is you want delivered to your door (or online) that day, or the next.

Government has to become a platform not just a series of institutions. It’s got to be the go-to place for much of what we all need to live a modern life: passports, planning permits, garbage collection, social services, health care … the list is long and, for most of us, obvious. In the U.K., the HM Government’s Digital First strategy is beginning to yield benefits. There’s an attitude of mind which sees government in "Amazon-like" terms. They’re taking the idea of turning government at all levels into a platform very seriously. GOV.UK PaaS (platform as a service) helps public-sector organizations to host their services "without worrying about infrastructure." Right now, it’s being used by 131 public-sector organizations and runs 1,652 applications.2

The platform channels private-sector technologies (from all the big providers as well as a host of niche ones) to public-sector bodies of all shapes and sizes. And it’s bearing fruit. Filing tax returns has become almost entirely digital – and easy. Getting a driver’s license is a matter of a few clicks and a single form – and your passport photo can be automatically accessed so no need to take a new one. But most of all, citizens are responding at a local level to clever use of digital technologies. The example of two South London boroughs illustrates the point.

THE PUBLIC OMNICHANNEL

In 2019, the boroughs of Kingston and Sutton decided to work together to deliver a digital strategy aimed at opening up services to more people. As they put it, “The aim was to use technology to improve services, help residents, and reduce council costs. Our Digital Strategy 2018-2021 was focused on creating an omnichannel approach that would enable citizens to fulfill a wide range of needs via digital means.”3 Sounds a lot like they were inspired by Amazon. A fact they freely acknowledge.

The principle was clearly stated as "when government is easy, the government is more popular," and the experience of the pandemic across the boroughs proved the point. The fact that there was a single, cohesive digital team meant that when the pandemic forced the nation to go into lockdown, Kingston and Sutton were able to immediately send their public-facing staff home with the right technology and maintain services and contact with citizens without interruption. The contact center remained open 24/7 throughout the lockdown.

A MISSION TO GET CLOSER TO CITIZENS

For Fujitsu, that’s the whole point of digital transformation in the public sector. And it’s an ambition that all government institutions share. It’s why, according to Gartner, worldwide public spending on IT is set to grow by 5 percent in 2021 alone, especially on software and applications to make government both intuitive and easy to navigate for citizens. It’s what they want and, increasingly, expect. It makes government more agile (witness Kingston and Sutton’s experience) and resilient (ditto). It also cuts costs. When you take out layers of bureaucracy, you save money, and you can focus public servants’ skills on more human interaction. More problems are identified and solved – at speed and at scale.

And making government more productive by freeing employees to work from anywhere – and increasingly from home, just as Kingston and Sutton did – demands a broader culture change which, in the light of the pandemic, should be easier to implement. It’s also vital that, with a move to more Amazon-like services, data protection and cybersecurity are priorities that underpin both trust in government and the integrity of the bond between institutions and citizens. That takes the right technology.

That’s our philosophy: Make government agile for both public servants and citizens. That delivers better services, more people use them and support for further investment grows so that it can be made even better. At Fujitsu, we believe in good government as much as you do. It’s our mission to give you the insights and digital tools to delight your citizens. It’s not just about being "more like Amazon"; it’s about taking what they do well and applying it to government so that we can make democracy more effective and robust.

[1] https://natcen.ac.uk/news-media/press-releases/2020/december/has-covid-19-shifted-public-attitudes-not-yet-at-least,-finds-survey/

[2] Listen to their fascinating podcast on the subject https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2021/03/31/podcast-gov-uk-platform-as-a-service/

[3] https://www.sutton.gov.uk/info/200436/customer_services/1733/our_digital_strategy

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