Government and the brave new world of digital customer experience

Rob Fitzpatrick | March 20, 2017
We’re used to sophisticated digital services in many parts of the private sector, so why not the public sector?

AIIA CEO, Rob Fitzpatrick
AIIA CEO, Rob Fitzpatrick

Cast your eye around and by all public accounts, it seems the federal government has lost its way with innovation. A former jewel in prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's crown has lost its sparkle.

There's no shortage of competing political priorities, of course, but there seems to be a simplistic view that innovation, social change and risk taking with technology doesn't win votes.

It's an easy argument to make, however it turns out the Australian public has not lost interest in digital innovation. Quite the opposite, in fact. When it comes to technology, Australians are ready for change and are expecting the government to lead from the front with courage and creativity.

A recent survey by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), conducted ahead of the AIIA's Navigating Digital Government Summit in Canberra on Wednesday 5 April, shows our national enthusiasm for technology continues to rise. This is especially true when it comes to government services - after all, who doesn't want a better experience when dealing with a government agency?

Our survey reports almost all Australians (99 per cent) believe they would benefit from government using the latest technologies to improve service delivery. Though new to government, technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual assistants, natural language processing etc., increasingly feature in private sector service offerings - raising the bar of expectations for all customers.

Harnessing these technologies must also be key to transforming the government's delivery of customer experience. The digital transformation construct is not an end in itself. With the pace of technology change it is inevitably a journey and one that government needs to genuinely buy into if it is to meet the public's expectations.

 

Where government is getting it right

And in many ways it already has. Digital transformation is well underway, and inspiring examples of customer service innovation do exist.

Take for example how the government is pushing the boundaries with its avatar "Nadia", recently announced by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Developed by New Zealand artificial intelligence startup Soul Machines, Nadia is a virtual assistant that provides verbal and written information about the NDIS to people with disability when and how they want it. The voice of actress Cate Blanchett is used to help personalise the service and make it, as much as possible, an authentic 'human like' experience.

Nadia can already answer the most common questions people have about the scheme and its machine learning capabilities enable its knowledge base to grow and evolve. The challenge will be retaining the authenticity and accuracy of the human interface as the complexity of enquiries increases. We know the technology works, but ensuring the integrity of a truly personalised, human like interface in a dynamic online context that satisfies customers, will inevitably take time.

People with disability are at the forefront of the project, driving innovation so that their needs can be met. Nadia is widely considered to be one of the most innovative government projects in the world right now and will be released in a trial environment in the months ahead. It is expected to take a year before she's fully operational, but I for one can't wait to see the results of this amazing project.

 When you look at how technology is transforming organisations at scale, like Service NSW, you can gain further understanding into how we're making progress in service delivery.

Salesforce is working with Service NSW to help it become the single face of NSW government - a tall order by anyone's measure. The goal is to break down barriers and give people the power to choose how and when they interact with the government through the free flow of data between every customer touch point, on every channel.

You might recall the NSW government previously offered the public a vast array of different shop fronts and web sites, often leading the customer to a call centre. Those days are gone and Service NSW now offers a single point of engagement for individuals and businesses transacting on a range of services. As Australia's first integrated public sector service model, its services include e-toll account management, driver licences, seniors cards, and birth certificates.

It's a great start, and the benefits of this integrated, efficient approach to service delivery will flow through into the economy.

However, Australia still has a long way to go. Our survey shows only a small proportion of people strongly agree the Commonwealth (16 per cent), State (14 per cent) and local governments (12 per cent) are using technology very well to deliver services to their customers.

Whether it's face-to-face over a counter or using a hands free mobile device while driving home at midnight, the public wants a seamless experience with government services. Where they see the real benefit of government using technology is in improving the quality and accuracy of the services (72 per cent), and personalising the services they receive to improve the speed and convenience of the interaction (55 per cent).

 Simply put, we're used to sophisticated digital services in many parts of the private sector, so why not the public sector? Australians want progress.

 

Embracing change

As Google's Asia Pacific head Karim Temsamani pointed out last week, the government must step up its efforts and lead by example to build capabilities for a 21st Century economy driven by digital technology and innovation. It's already using its own levers to drive digital transformation, and with that comes a responsibility to keep everyone heading in the same direction.

With the rapid development of exciting new technologies such as AI, machine learning, and edge computing, we can expect more change to come.

Sure, it's complicated but that's the job our national and state leaders must embrace in order to keep pace - not just with what is happening in the private sector and in governments around the world, but more urgently with the very reasonable expectations of the Australian public.