The Digital Mindset: seeing problems through new eyes

Few public servants would question if government should undertake digital transformation. The demand from citizens that their interactions with public services should match those with the private sector is overwhelming – as are the cost savings cases for taxpayers[1].

However, the vast difference between traditional government practice and the ‘digital way’ means the how is less clear.

Delivering on Digital: The Innovations and Technologies that are Transforming Government, the latest book from Deloitte’s William D. Eggers and Deloitte University Press, provides the handbook for how to achieve successful digital transformation in government.

Five digital mindsets are outlined that can help public servants see old problems through new eyes and to appreciate digital as being more than just technology. It’s not about lecturing on the latest fad or saying that what has been previously delivered is wrong. It’s about considering a way of working that is different.

Openness

‘Share and share alike’ is a digital mantra. This might be using open-source code, opening up data sets or sharing ideas. Government digital teams are looking to access (free) code from open collaboration forums like GitHub and re-use components that have been developed and shared to help improve existing digital public services.

Government data sets are no longer hidden away in spreadsheets but are being opened up for developer communities to make use of them, including over 8,200 sets that are open to the public in Australia.

Australia’s Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is taking steps to further open up the performance of Australian public services, with the first alpha Performance Dashboard recently released. We’re also seeing a greater willingness to share work in progress as well as insights into how government officials develop digital services; the DTO’s blog pages being a great example of this transparency.

User centricity

A digital mindset requires an unrelenting focus on ensuring that user needs, rather than government needs, are met.

For example, in Belgium, developers working on a new tax assessment service consulted and co-created with users throughout the development process to really understand how they interacted with a service, rather than making assumptions. As a result citizens now receive tax assessments pre-filled with available data and simply verify the information.

One of the most powerful things that the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS), and more recently Australia’s DTO, has done is to connect the people building public services to the potential users, including public servants themselves.

Taking such an approach is more empathetic, more results oriented and can also be more influential in effecting further change. Showing a Minister video clips contrasting  a user’s interaction with a service before and after it’s been digitally transformed truly opens their eyes to the power of digital.

digital transformation

Co-creation

“Products and services are created with customers, rather than for them,” says Eggers in his chapter on ‘The Digital Mindset’. He notes that customers are no longer at the end of the value chain with services designed to meet assumed needs, but are now co-creators.

The Singaporean government and its citizens have co-created numerous apps using government data and the collaborative power of the internet. Examples include EduChoices, which enables students and parents to leverage education data to make informed decisions about choosing schools and Wheeling Freely, an app that assists disabled people by automatically identifying barrier-free routes. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention similarly sponsored a “Flu App Challenge” to encourage mobile app developers to use government data to effectively educate the public on how to prevent and treat the flu. This helped to solve a problem that would have cost the Government significantly more time and money to do on its own. Rather than Government taking the lead, its role is shifting to that of facilitator and collaborator. In  turn, new businesses are springing up around the opportunities being made available.

Simplicity

Simplicity. An easy word to say but far harder to live by in the public sector where the default is complexity.

Gov.uk is so simple in its design, is bucking this trend. 750 complex and confusing UK government websites were replaced with one platform  designed around user needs –  making information and services frequently required by the public available in one place.

Before every word, link and feature was included, the designers and user researchers challenged whether they were needed. This didn’t make them popular with the policy teams who had written some of the previous content – but it did create a genuinely more simple and efficient user experience. And this is why the DTO, with the forthcoming gov.au platform, is taking the same approach.

Agility

Agility is the process of rapid delivery, regular adaptation and constant refinement. Australia’s Digital Service Standards embody this process, advocating 20 week work cycles with service teams focused on delivering tangible outcomes and value by the end of each cycle.

Although the ability to be agile does depend on the service, the mindset is universally applicable. At it’s most basic, it involves focussing on  understanding user needs, producing a prototype to demonstrate what  the digital service might look like and launching a beta version to release value as soon as possible. This enables the establishment of a minimum viable service that can then be user tested and refined.

This agile approach was epitomised by VicRoads when redesigning and implementing their refreshed digital experience. The project was segmented and once a phase was finished, new features were subjected to rigorous A/B testing before general release. For example, 95 percent of site visitors might see the old change-of-address form, with only 5 percent able to use the new version. Only after addressing any remaining issues would the application be opened up to all users. “These are critical services, so potentially the consequences could be fairly nasty if we get this wrong,” says Jason Hutchinson, a Partner in Melbourne. “A/B testing was a great way to ensure that whatever we release worked before we released it to everyone.”

Prototypes, not powerpoint presentations, are the way to deliver simpler, clearer and faster public services.

By adopting these five digital mindsets, governments can elevate processes to provide a service rivaling that of the private sector, saving taxpayers time and money along the way.

Read more

‘Delivering on Digital – The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government’. This latest book from Deloitte’s William D. Eggers explores how a new generation of digital innovators is reforming and modernising government, citing ground-breaking case studies from around the world, including Australia.

About the Authors

Simon Cooper leads on Digital Transformation in Government in Deloitte’s Sydney Consulting Practice.

Laura Sacks is an Analyst in Consulting with a passion for organisational transformation and is based at Deloitte Sydney.

[1] A recent report by Deloitte Access Economics found that halving the government transactions by traditional channels (phone, mail, and face-to-face) would result in $20.5 billion in potential savings over the next ten years.


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