Transforming the public sector - One subscriber at a time

“The government’s approach to technology will provide better public services for less cost. Through disaggregating, re-using, optimising, sharing and modernising our technology, we will improve productivity and efficiency, and reduce waste and the likelihood of project failure.”

So says the Cabinet Office, in its strategy for government IT. It’s an admirable goal, but there’s more that can be done to improve public sector services than just modernising and optimising technology.

Here in the United Kingdom, it’s easy to grumble about government inefficiency when it comes to basic services: paying taxes, registering a business, getting a driver’s license, even registering to vote. Endless forms and bureaucratic processes confuse and alienate citizens, rather than offering simple, intuitive touch points that either provide relevant information or disappear altogether because the process is so neatly integrated into our lives. The government is keen to provide better public services, but clearly something is missing.

We may think dissatisfaction in government services is just part and parcel of being a citizen, but around the world, public sector organisations are revolutionising the way they interact with people. In Estonia, citizens don’t just pay their taxes online, they simply authorise an online tax statement that’s been fed real-time financial data over the course of the previous year, while Rwandans can apply and pay for driver’s licenses over their phones. Singaporeans don’t just have easy access to one service from one agency– their “SingPass” program gives access to hundreds of e-services offered by more than 60 government agencies.

Making government services a simple and intuitive system isn’t just a convenience. It can have huge implications for individual citizens. In Trinidad & Tobago, a mobile government portal allows fishermen to swap real-time advice, access wholesale market prices and sea safety information, and send out emergency alerts. New Zealand has revolutionised the idea of intuitive government systems by gamifying energy reports, allowing neighbours to see how they compare, and notify users if they are close to any new efficiency milestones.

Sweden has even taken the one step further, rolling out a program called SMSLifesaver that allows medically trained citizen volunteers to be instantly alerted if there is a heart attack victim within 500 meters of their location. It’s not an exaggeration, then, to say that an intuitive public sector can save lives.

So how are Sweden, New Zealand and Estonia (among others) doing this? Surprisingly, it’s by using the same formula that makes Google, Apple and Facebook three of the most successful companies in the world.

This secret formula is subscriber IDs. These give businesses clear insights into individual users, allowing them to provide services optimised specifically for you. Using them in the public sector can transform a government from a basic services provider to a platform that gives you access to a range of new opportunities to contribute and engage.

The United Nations explains this shift in its latest e-government survey: “Citizens tend to think of government as a kind of vending machine. They put in taxes and get out services that governments provide. However, this vending machine idea is giving way to the idea of ‘government as a platform.’ The platform metaphor means that government provides a system in place to deliver services not by governments alone, but also by citizens and others (which also allows people inside and outside to innovate).”

There’s nothing wrong with a “vending machine” model, if it works. Clearly it doesn’t here in the UK, or our tax system would be as simple as pressing a few buttons. This is why transforming to a “platform” system is so important – and it doesn’t just fix current inefficiencies, it offers better services with less, exactly what the government is aiming for.

It’s time for a change, and subscriber IDs offer the UK’s public sector an easy way to meet their goal of providing better, more modern public services. The effects of subscriber model relationships can transform how citizens interact with, and even feel towards their public organisations, changing public bodies from services providers to engaging platforms.

John Phillips, VP EMEA at Zuora

Image source: Shutterstock/Pres Panayotov