Moving to a Digital-First Public Sector: Expectation vs. Reality



Thanks to technology, people are more empowered within their communities than ever before. Think about the thousands of people who sign online petitions that are then debated in parliament, for example. Or those who use websites such as to take a more active role in neighbourhood maintenance.

People are willing and wanting to use digital services more, and central governments all over the world are listening. In the UK, the information service has been transformational in making a vast number of forms and reports easily accessible. In Estonia, people can sign up for a smart ID card that allows them to officially sign documents online and remotely. And, in the United States, has allowed people to build apps and websites based on openly available government data.

But, just like the private sector, government bodies are all at different stages of the transformation journey. Despite some areas of government now successfully having been digitised, the vast majority of public sector services still have a long way to go to achieve meaningful change.

The lagging public sector

The benchmark of digital success continues to be set by the private sector. Digital giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google are constantly striving to attract customers with their dedication to customer convenience and efficiency. Banks are continuously improving their multichannel accessibility to match modern user needs. It’s little wonder then that citizens want their public sector service experiences to be the same.

We explore this mismatch in our latest report, ‘Government 2.0: A Riverbed Survey on the Public Sector Digital Experience’. According to our results, the bulk of the UK population is willing to engage with the public sector through digital means. They are happy to use tablet devices to check-in at health clinics and to use social media to contact their MP. What is more, a quarter of respondents say they are open to new and ambitious projects, such as driverless ambulances or drones delivering passports.

I believe the need to digitise is also a financial one. Outdated technology can often drain funds, with repair and maintenance costs often exceeding the cost of replacement. And, in my opinion, with the advent of smartphones, social media and the 24-hour news cycle, it is now easier than ever before for the public to scrutinise how taxpayers’ money is being spent.

Digital transformation is a chance to build a more integrated government. By sharing information between departments, services and tools can become more efficient and relevant to the needs of citizens. A digital-friendly government can also help reach citizens that traditional channels would otherwise struggle to reach. The UK population has a diverse spectrum of needs and expectations, meaning an integrated online platform can bring access to those who live in rural areas, have physical impairments or work irregular hours.

The pace of technological innovation will always be quicker than that of government internal change. And this will prove difficult for public sector bodies. Any roadmap must take into consideration the expectations of the digitally-savvy citizen, as well as be flexible enough to cater to evolving best practice service initiatives.

Most importantly, we must improve front line services as well as make the back office more efficient. The onus is on the government to work with organisations to ensure that these services improve and meet expectations around security, as well as reliability and performance.

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