Why it’s time for governments to deliver citizen-centric reform

When I joined The Boston Consulting Group 30 years ago, one of my first assignments was an effort to shape and assess the value of a relatively new concept, segment-of-one marketing. Our belief was that companies would be able to engage their customers not as mass segments but as individuals – tailoring products, messages, and ways of connecting. It turned out we were right, just a few decades too early.

Today, leading companies are obsessed – rightly – with customer centricity, leveraging digital technologies, customised production, and advanced analytics and machine learning to target the needs and aspirations of individual customers.

Starbucks is a great example. The company went from sending 30 varieties of emails each week to its 13 million-plus loyalty-card customers to sending more than 400,000 variations each week. Said differently, they initially had segments averaging over 400,000 people for each weekly email. Today, they send individualised emails. To do this, they needed to embrace advanced analytics and machine learning in a big way and to build new skills, processes, and IT platforms within the organisation.

This opportunity is just as important for governments. The concept of citizen-centric reform – aligning government services with the distinct needs of individual citizens and communities – would have seemed unattainable and unaffordable just a few years ago. Recently, however, BCG has had the opportunity to support numerous such efforts around the world. Citizen-centric reform is becoming a reality.

Changing the lens of reform

Government reform has historically been supply focused. The government decided how best to provide services to relatively broad groups of people. But more and more citizens expect services to be tailored to their individual situations and accessible anytime, anywhere – and they count on government to keep up with the technologies that are already deployed in the rest of their lives.

The opportunities for innovation are plentiful. Affordable advances in technology and data analytics can open up new digital channels and enable greater customization and localism geared toward an individual’s unique circumstances. Access to huge sets of data can help isolate problems and develop targeted solutions. Government initiatives can now reach the remotest of regions nearly instantly because of ultra-fast connectivity at fractional cost and time.

With these advances and opportunities, it makes sense to adjust the approach to government reform by placing the citizen at the centre – tackling complicated bureaucracy and removing silos in order to ensure each individual gets a robust, tailored solution. By improving transparency and offering services that are more accessible, convenient, and effective, citizen-centric reform delivers real impact. Here are a handful of examples from the reform efforts we’ve supported around the world.

  • Australia: Government Services, at your convenience. Australia embarked on a journey to reform its Department of Human Services, which provides social security benefits, Medicare, child support, and disability support. It defined three broad objectives: improve access to services, provide services more efficiently, and deliver better outcomes. The effort transformed the citizen experience by introducing new ways of segmenting and channeling customers – as well as expanding online services, lean operations, and the use of technology through apps and integrated platforms.
  • Texas: Safer roads across the state. TxDOT is dedicated to improving safety and reducing congestion. But as Texas continues to grow rapidly, building new roads has not been enough. Roads in Texas are already less safe than those in other states, with nearly 4,000 lives lost in 2016. TxDOT used technology to create reliable, up-to-date data on traffic; inform drivers about alternative routes in real time; and respond quickly in order to clear incidents off the roads. TxDOT is now rolling out this solution to improve safety and congestion throughout the state.
  • India: Affordability, access, and quality. There is tremendous opportunity for India to be at the forefront of citizen-centric reform across a range of services, with a focus on connecting with hard-to-reach people. Innovative services are already pulling marginalized members of the population into the banking system and giving millions of Indians a digital identity. India is one of the leading internet nations – with far-reaching high-speed connectivity – making it possible for the government to target citizen-centric reforms in other critical areas, such as health, education, food security, and labour programmes.
  • US: Groceries for military families. Reforms within the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) provide a strong case for applying private-sector lessons to public-sector reforms that put individual and family needs at the centre. With that intent, DeCA used big-data techniques to analyse its rich transaction-level data, specifically taking into account customer shopping behaviour and preferences. The result was the ability to customise product assortment and introduce new private-label items, as well as create a better pricing framework. Now, an essential benefit for US military families is more financially sustainable and offers a better shopping experience.
  • Saudi Arabia: An IT platform for the labour market. Saudi Arabia was facing significant problems related to youth and female unemployment. The country had labour programs in place, but gaps in IT support meant that it was difficult to add new programmes, individuals had very little automated access and support, and there was no central reporting or monitoring of labour market dynamics. Saudi Arabia took a citizen-centric approach to addressing the problem. The government created a single, integrated platform that could act as a mediator for labour market participants, facilitating the delivery of customised employment support and increasing government transparency.

Citizens first: The time is now

People want easy access to high-quality services relevant to their specific needs. They want to know that their voices are heard and their distinct needs are understood. Today, with advances in technology, analytics, and connectivity, governments can meet these rising expectations.

Citizen-centric reforms can unlock the extraordinary potential that governments can bring to their people and communities. Empowered with new tools and a new mindset, leaders around the world can reimagine how they engage with and support their citizens to improve access to services and the overall quality of life.


This blog first appeared on Rich’s LinkedIn. 


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