Q&A: Digital transformation and the public sector

Callum Sherwood, public sector specialist at Freshworks answers our questions on digital transformation, the influence of new technologies, the importance of customer service and what organisations can learn from each other


How are public sector organisations looking at digital transformation today? Is this driven by leadership teams, or by front-line teams?

There’s a lot of thinking taking place around how to deliver services at scale to the public. In fact, CIOs in the government and public sector ranked digital transformation as their most important priority according to Gartner research published earlier this year – a higher level than private company CIOs.

The challenge with digital transformation is that it is not a ‘quick fix’ – large scale digital transformation projects will need to be driven by leadership teams within organisations to see success. If this does not take place, then it is hard for organisations to get past the inertia that exists within all large bodies.

That’s not to say front-line teams can’t have a big impact on how digital is used internally or with citizens. Smaller teams can drive individual elements of the project, and in some cases, they can be the catalyst for a bigger project within the organisation. These kinds of successes have to have support to become established across more than one team or department, and then they can have a broader impact.


How do you see customer experience, ITSM and customer service supporting digital strategies?

Customer experience is vital to supporting a successful digital strategy. As we become more connected consumers, our expectations also grow and we expect to use the same kinds of tools in our daily lives. For companies, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020, according to a Walker study.

For public sector organisations this kind of thinking will affect how they deliver IT services internally – can we offer the same kind of experience that people are used to from the likes of Apple when they have a software problem, or need a new application? Can we make IT services as easy to consume as buying something from Amazon? How can we take the right processes and apply “just enough IT” to make them work without friction?

However, public sector bodies have other constraints on them – they have to serve multiple communities and people with varying levels of IT knowledge, aptitude and ability. Whatever the range of experience they have to support over time, digital can be used to help streamline the experience that everyone gets and keep it consistent, regardless of the route that someone takes to get help. Councils and healthcare organisations will want more people to use self-service as it costs less to build and run – however, we can use new technologies like AI and chatbots to help channels be as efficient as possible, leaving more resource time for those that can’t take up newer channels.


Are existing ITSM implementations able to support these new digital strategies, or are migrations required? Is digital best treated as a “clean slate” or to build on what already works?

Like any situation, it very much depends on the systems that are in place and how well they are being used. When incumbent tools and systems are outdated and no longer fit for purpose, or incompatible with newer technologies, then it can be more cost-effective to rip and replace and put a new infrastructure in place.

However, if some smaller projects have taken place to update the tech over time, then new tools can be implemented alongside existing systems. A lot of the time, we find that older systems are not being used to their full potential in any case, while they still cost a lot to run, so this phased migration can help you plan ahead and re-engineer the services that are delivered too.


How do you see new technologies like AI and chatbots supporting digital strategies? Are these elements joined up into a cohesive approach from the start, or are they implemented to get quick wins and expand over time?

A lot of this depends on the goals and objectives around new technologies like chat. Are there specific goals in place, like moving a certain percentage of current requests over to self-service? You can assess where chat can be a viable option to help achieve that goal, as part of a wider digital strategy.

This will also depend on your starting point – do you have a full strategy for digital in place that is looking at new models for customer service, or are you approaching this from a more IT-led perspective? It can be great to achieve a quick win using chat to improve service, but this should become part of a wider approach to increase efficiency and still maintain service quality.

Thinking about AI is important – there’s a lot of potential in this technology, but it has to be implemented and maintained well in order to keep delivering value. Internal ITSM teams should look at AI as a way to deliver more effectively, but this should not be viewed as replacing front-line service delivery. Instead, your front-line staff will be essential to train and monitor how AI tools can deliver service over time, and keep that service up to date with customer requests. Without this in place, you will solve some of today’s problems but not tomorrow’s issues or be able to keep up with changing patterns in demand.


How can public sector organisations learn from each other?

Sharing experience and best practices is essential – not only for those in the same area of public service, but for all public bodies. Local government and healthcare bodies can collaborate more effectively when they are looking at the same goals, for example, but their processes and applications can be very different.

In practice, this means that software user groups, events and conferences can have a real benefit, particularly for finding out what other people did in practice to achieve their results. Social media can also be a good channel for new ideas – public sector teams should be proud of their achievements and the results they deliver, and social provides a great way to get that data over to peers and the public.

However, I’d say the most important thing is just generally talking to each other to learn from other organisations that have had success, what projects have won awards and where there has been general recognition of good achievement. While there are differences in how organisations are set up and run, the problems that public sector organisations face are all very similar, and the desire to achieve great results is equally high.

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