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Can you imagine a world without computers? In my case, an eclectic range of digital devices are by my side from dawn to dusk, their presence as sacrosanct as a morning cup of coffee.
Governments, inevitably, have woken up to this new digital era - and with mixed results. I am writing this from Canberra, Australia's capital. Many of my friends and neighbours work in government. Thanks to their collective efforts at both the state and federal level, I can go online (sometimes on a mobile device) and submit tax returns and get health care rebates or immunisation records for my children, for example. Or renew vehicle registrations and make payments. The list goes on.
These instances are good examples of public impact: government helping citizens access their services quickly and efficiently. One could argue, though, that it's about time. After all, billions of people are now connected globally via email, SMS, and social and gaming networks. Physical boundaries are vanishing as more and more data is transmitted over the internet. With our world transformed by an ever-evolving digital ecosystem, governments could hardly opt out. But the scope to do more remains huge.
Digital services: room for improvement
Australian policymakers are not alone in making bold commitments towards digital services. But while many governments around the world are seeking to go digital, they are facing a highly expectant target audience. Let's face it, many of us routinely shop online these days, or use the web for banking and other financial services. The speed and ease of these transactions mean that a similar experience is sought when it comes to government. Unfortunately, this is not always forthcoming.
The BCG digital government report underlines the scale of the challenge. Our survey of government digital services in 12 countries found that 95% of respondents had used at least one online government service in the last two years, with an average of 32% using online government services more than once a week. Overall, we found relatively high satisfaction levels, especially with basic interactions, but satisfaction was much lower among more digitally experienced younger users and those who try to engage in more sophisticated tasks and transactions. So, what can governments do?
Breaking bad barriers
While there is certainly no shortage of ideas, it takes more than plans to make a difference. For starters, there must be a renewed focus on value. Policymakers should prioritise those services which are of greatest importance to constituents but where satisfaction levels are low. It is time to boost investment in seamless, end-to-end capabilities. Just downloading or filling in online forms is no longer good enough - these days, citizens want easy-to-navigate and intuitive user interfaces, one-click or no-touch servicing, and easily accessible online support and service.
Admittedly, this won't be straightforward. Taking this kind of unified, coordinated approach to design and delivery can be challenging, particularly when problems straddle departmental dividing lines. Concerns over security, risk, legal issues and compliance can also combine to slow things down. Nonetheless, governments need to persevere. The impact of basic improvements in the user experience, such as providing the ability to access all services with a single digital identity regardless of department or agency, can be huge.
The rapid emergence of mobile apps, cloud computing, social media and big data - all unheard of not that long ago - are vivid reminders that the digital revolution is far from complete. To their credit, governments have succeeded in bringing a large number of services online, but there is much still to do.
With ever-increasing numbers of online users and mobile devices around the world, policymakers must continue to meet this challenge head on, and not flinch from any future problems that may arise. The rewards of money saved, efficiencies achieved and impact enhanced should fuel their journey in the years ahead.
- Power to the people. Few countries have embraced the digital era as successfully as New Zealand. We talk to one of its government's key digital transformation leaders, Richard Foy,about how they've done it.
- Computer says yes. Governments are increasingly reliant on digital technology to deliver public services - and Australia's myGov service is a potential game-changer, says Gary Sterrenberg
- Digital dawn. It may not be obvious, but US policymakers have had an important role to play in the creation of today's digital era, says David Dean
- Core workouts. With governments increasingly seeking to transform their core systems,Andrew Arcuri explains how they can move from achieving good results, to truly great
- Transforming disability, transforming lives. Recognising that disability can happen to anyone, anytime, Australia's policymakers have embarked on an innovative and ambitious scheme to transform the lives of people with disability. Here, David Bowen, head of the new National Disability Insurance Agency, tells Miguel Carrasco about the progress so far