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EXCLUSIVE: OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight: Best Government in the World! Enriching Digitalisation Initiatives in the Public Sector

COVID-19 pandemic has foundationally altered the way both the public and private sector across the world deliver services, products, and programmes and has progressed digital transition by years.  Government agencies and institutions have fast-tracked digitisation of internal operations and delivery of citizen services. To meet changing and new demands far more quickly, businesses adopted temporary solutions, that are morphing into more permanent ones.

The public and private sectors had to transition business, work, and services as remote working became a necessity. Hence, organisations had an urgent need to test the resilience of new working models to provide better access and protect data. Additionally, other disrupted private sectors looked to the government for adaptive and dynamic regulatory models while citizens also demanded more online services.

Organisations need to adopt new technologies, formulate evolving strategies and put in place best practices to stay relevant, competitive and survive, in the new normal. There is now increased demand for e-services and expectations of better virtual offerings. In this Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA) environment, governments across the globe, too, are looking to ramp up their digital transformation to better citizen services in a post-COVID-19 era.

Today, citizens’ expectations and demands of their government have has escalated astronomically. That means even greater citizen demand for seamless experiences and access to the right content, at the right time, across departments and agencies – at any time, anywhere and with any device. Ultimately, citizen expectations are changing as society becomes more comfortable with using digital services.

Government must use the momentum of recent initiatives in the post-pandemic era to improve digital services for citizens. This is the perfect timing for citizen-centric government leaders to understand the needs of each citizen by having a creative mindset that can unlock the pathway to more positive citizen experiences.

There is a clear opportunity right now for the public sector to share learnings, partner, and collaborate with industry leaders to work hand in hand in achieving true digital transformation that improves the lives of citizens and society as a whole.

This was the focal point of the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight held on 20 October 2021. This invitation-only session aimed to impart knowledge and strategies on how to accelerate and redefine the connected citizen experience.

Citizen-centric solutions for future-ready government

Mohit Sagar: With growing citizen demand, governments must deploy more agile digital solutions through partnership

Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia, kicked off the session with his opening address.

He acknowledged in today’s hyperconnected world, demand from citizens is increasing daily. Since COVID-19 drove almost all aspects of life into the digital realm, businesses and institutions pivoted to serve them online. With this, people no longer have to wait in line for a specific service or product.

Their experience with the private sector, retail, commerce and finance, has made them used to uber-personalisation. Citizens, in his opinion, consume things at an astonishing rate and super personalised services are being offered through Artificial Intelligence and other technology.

To cope with demand and match expectations, governments are being driven to push the envelope, or, to put it another way: accelerate digital transformation. Against this backdrop, the main challenge for governments, now, as they strive to match the retail experience and meet citizens’ evolving demands is juggling multiple things at once – infrastructure, processes, security and upskilling.

If the new normal continues to keep life predominantly online, Mohit asks, “Will our systems be able to handle this? Will they cope if organisations decide to go with a work-from-home only model?”

Such thinking, demands organisations and agencies rethink, replan and reimagine their digital transformation outlook. It is no mean feat to deploy a sound, robust and agile strategy.

Finding the right partner, in these circumstances, according to Mohit, is vital to success. Working with experts allows agencies and governments to focus on their core missions and deliverables.

He exhorted the delegates and speakers to participate in the discussions at hand as the session had the potential to generate solutions and insights. This peer-learning and collaborative brainstorming could provide solutions that would be crucial for organisations to improve and become more citizen-centric.

Digital transformation essential to deliver enhanced citizen experience

Colin Tan: tech has significantly reshaped our lives – what we consume, how we consume it, when and where we consume it

Colin Tan, Director, Digital Experience, SEA, Adobe spoke next. About a year into the pandemic, at the beginning of 2021, Adobe has commissioned a study to explore the top trends in experience management for the public sector. Some of the key themes they wanted to gain insight into were how the human experience informed the citizen experience and how organisations worked to become more experienced-driven.

“Where organisations are today with advanced modern technology significantly reshaping the world around us and our lives – from what we consume to how we consume to when and where we consume it,” Colin believes. “The human experience has certainly and rapidly been altered by technological modernisation.”

Lockdowns and movement restriction orders due to the pandemic coupled with the personalised services offered by both local businesses and multinational outlets have made the public far less mobile – and reliant on e-commerce. Online shopping with home delivery, remote working and online classes, even now, have been widely adopted and, in most cases, is the norm.

This has altered the perception of what the government should be capable of doing – citizens expect the same experience and service they get from the private sector from the government.

Agreeing with Mohit, Colin feels that meeting these rising expectations of private-sector quality service, delivery and experience, is now at the top of governments’ agenda.

While this may be the expectation, the reality is different – government transmission lags the commercial sector and 33% of all governments are under pressure to accelerate their programmes. A recent report that deals with the state of the public sector transformation globally indicated that 80% of governments are still in the early stages of digital maturity or are developing it.

Singapore has been one of the frontrunners in embracing technology well before the pandemic and has been globally recognised as a leader in e-government and, more recently, for digital government.

Adobe is committed to partnering closely with government agencies around the world in their digital transformation journey to help deliver a better and more rounded citizen experience. The company is synonymous with the creative and document worlds, Products such as Photoshop and Acrobat are “household names and tools” that people employ daily for business, education and personal use.

However, a very important and growing part of the business is the collaboration Adobe has with other organisations and governments in the areas of delivering impactful digital customer or citizen experiences. It has been a privilege for Adobe to have partnered with some of the best and brightest organisations to deliver a range of digital solutions.

Colin was confident that he would learn much as the delegates freely shared their perspectives and insights. He looked forward to engaging in dialogue with like-minded peers and executives and was eager to hear everyone’s ideas and solutions.

Delivering equitable, inclusive and citizen-centric digital services

John Mackenney: Government services must meet new citizen expectations

John Mackenney, Practise Lead of Digital Strategy APAC, Adobe who followed, elaborated on the shift in the way governments are thinking about service delivery as they strive to meet new citizen expectations.

In their experience citizen expectations revolve around convenience, timeliness and personalisation. These are now the norm in service industries, whether it is ordering food, tourism experiences or shopping for retail goods. Citizens expected the same level and quality from interaction with government agencies as well.

“We are seeing governments invest more in trusted platforms; interoperability between different solutions and different technology providers have become very important,” he said.

In these transformation journeys, John has seen that cyber security and cyber threats remain a major concern for governments. Data privacy, storage, access and sovereignty are also key considerations.

In his opinion, the benefits of data and personalisation are beginning to be better understood, and organisations are beginning to strike a better balance. Furthermore, in terms of how employees and teams work, it has been acknowledged that much more of an agile structure and faster move to get government services out and has been accelerated. Additionally, as governments expand and evolve, digital skills – in-house and by external talent – is vital to success.

John believes that there is a shift in how organisations think about using technology, not just in terms of how the technology has been deployed, but also in aspects of how the technologies save money and drive efficiencies into the government budget. This shift presents a range of questions:

  • What does that mean as a broader citizen dividend?
  • How do governments deliver time savings back to citizens?
  • How do we deliver better government services?
  • How do you become an experience-driven agency?”

John offers several pillars on which to base the answers to those questions.

The first is to implement strategy and leadership within organisations and across government, with top leadership prioritising digital and driving transformation with business agility.

The next is understanding the importance of becoming a citizen-centred organisation. Citizen success KPIs, empowered teams, governance and security must drive the way agencies work. However, he believes that it is not just about dedicated teams and targets, but about understanding KPIs, “How are you enhancing the application?”.

Data and architecture are another; technology, architecture and a solid data foundation are required to create stunning citizen experiences. John enquires, “How do you get the context around a citizen and how will they understand those different digital touchpoints?”

This is where content-at-scale and optimised experiences come into play, being able to bring all these together to establish the context and service needs of citizens – not just building websites but being able to deliver content across every channel.

Lastly, Al-driven capabilities around journey management and optimising experiences have become a major focus for governments.

John acknowledged the vital work of one of Singapore’s most popular and widely used applications – Life SG – which is how the Singapore government understands citizens and their needs.

According to John, understanding the demands and needs has been a difficult task that some governments and agencies are currently undergoing. He is confident that Adobe can help agencies and invited delegates to explore ways they could collaborate.

Streamlining data access, improving data management and strengthening governance

Joy Bonaguro – Empowering use of Data in California

Joy Bonaguro, Chief Data Officer for the State of California, USA, shared her thoughts on digital transformation from the viewpoint of California’s data strategy and how it unlocked the digital experience.

“I think we spend a little too much time with the digital tail wagging the dog,” she said. “When what we need is data to decide what to offer.”

According to her, California is structured around the concept of empowering data use and it is on the premise that they must consciously equip themselves to navigate the data landscape.

She acknowledges that it is difficult to share and access data across departments because the data is housed in silos. Further, each of those entities has been built around those systems and the only way out is to create holistic data.

Another challenge they faced is that most government data in the United States is not well documented nor well structured, this often results in, what Joy referred to, as “the question death spiral.”

In this scenario, the primary goal is to design a data access spectrum. The government, according to Joy, is currently working on developing this holistic architecture for data access across the system. However, as they build a data road, the government must be careful about how the roads are designed.

She likened this construction to physical roads as the rules of the data road and a physical road are similar. To elaborate, she displayed stop signs from various countries before 1968 as well as current signs. She asked the delegates in which era they would prefer to drive based on the two road signs presented.

Joy indicated that she “would prefer to be in 1968. Whether stepping into a taxi or a bus then was a lot more predictable. These sorts of standards and consistency in the physical world can become so salient”.

Joy emphasised that physical standards have unlocked global commerce, whether in the form of shipping containers or billings of arrivals at various ports. In terms of state-wide data strategy, she believes that there is a lack of data consistency, which has manifested, as an example, in the vaccine rollout in the US healthcare system. There are 58 counties, each delivering vaccines separately. Joy discovered four different vaccine race ethnicity options during her visit to four of the country’s different vaccine signups.

When the summarisation of the vaccination case data in the state of California by race and ethnicity was revealed, it was discovered that nearly 20% of the data on race and ethnicity was missing, leaving the government unable to determine the rest of the other groups that are not being vaccinated.

In terms of developing new data playbooks, the government will be updating its ethics and algorithm toolkit around how to responsibly use and deploy Al, as well as boosting their writers and thinking through how to structurally deepen the government’s data bench.

The government has established a ‘data gym,’ which is being used as a shortcut for leaders to understand their role in the importance and use of driving data. This process is similar to how a  gym operates, except that in this case, IT teams are in charge of maintaining the gym and its associated equipment. Nevertheless, it is the data teams who act as trainers, who assist organisations in identifying trouble spots and understanding how to use and sequence the equipment.

Finally, businesses must commit to getting in shape, and this cannot be delegated to IT or data teams.

The Cal Data Academy, which will be soon launched, will provide employees with training to improve and level data competency skills across our frontline staff, government leadership, etc.

In closing, Joy feels that governments should shift their focus, as they are currently looking solely to supplying data roads and not on increasing business demand. It is critical to focus on this to nurture communities.

Interactive Discussion

After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This activity is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences, and impart professional learning and development for participants.

The first question asked the delegates what the most important IT priorities for their organisations were. An overwhelming majority (71%) of the participants said digital transformation and innovation to be important. About a fifth (19%) went with improving efficiencies and reducing maintenance costs while 10% indicated digital record-keeping to comply with government legislation was key.

When asked what organisations’ key initiatives would be over the next 12 months, about half (46%) had a variety of responses not in the given options. About a quarter (24%) stated education, while healthcare and security (video data analysis) got 12% each. The remaining 6% went with transportation.

Replying to what their biggest challenge with managing change in data/business requirements was, 33% were concerned about the time involved to make changes. About 29% felt it was a lack of flexibility/agility in current systems and 14% had uncertainty about future needs. A quarter (24%) indicated other issues, not on the given list.

The next poll inquired why organisations think Digital Transformation requires New IT Strategies. A third (33%) answered partnering for capabilities, 27% say evolving business value and another 27% went with new IT enablers. The balance 13% opted for external customer-centricity.

On being asked which Infrastructure Tech Modernisation area their organisation is investing in or planning to invest in support of Digital Transformation (DX)/IT Transformation (ITX) projects, more three fourths (78%) answered data analytics while 22% say converged or aggregated infrastructure.

On what is their biggest challenge was when it came to data management, about 30% said fast accessibility (being able to get the data quickly) while another 30% felt real-time insights (ability to analyse data in real-time) was their main issue. A quarter (25%) indicated regulatory compliance while 15% opted for data loss prevention.

Delegates were polled on how their organisations think AI and Data Analytics can impact / improve their current initiative. Half went with faster access to data to improve pre-emptive analysis. The remaining delegates were equally split between needing AI-ready infrastructure to manage a large set of data (25%) and a machine learning-based approach for IT infrastructure (25%).

The last question asked the delegates what trigger factors or events had been (or would be) most important in leading the organisations to use or seriously consider using cloud services. More than 72% of them answered businesses demand more agility and/or speed from IT. 17% said IT Capital expenditure (CapEx) budgets are being constrained or reduced and 11% stated hardware (e.g. servers) coming to the end of its life.

Conclusion

The future of government will be digital. Challenges and difficulties are unavoidable as more organisations and agencies accelerate their digital transformation efforts. Due to ongoing resource constraints, increased legislative priority, budget constraints and the preservation of an existing system are required.

Citizens’ expectations are essential in this process and governments all over the world are working hard to meet them. Innovative technology must be used to empower and improve the practices of government agencies while also lowering costs and making the citizen experience as smooth and efficient as possible.

Colin thanked everyone and expressed his gratitude for the robust participation and insightful contributions. He thoroughly enjoyed the session and hoped the delegates had as well. Colin was excited to work with the delegates to help them meet citizens’ demands and improve the citizen experience.

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