Suparno Banerjee is the vice president of Public Sector Programs within the Office of the CEO at Hewlett-Packard Company.
Approximately 55% of Belgium’s 10 million citizens live in Flanders, the country’s northernmost Dutch-speaking region. More than 70 agencies of the Flemish Government provide a broad range of services that span, amongst others: education, healthcare, social services, agriculture, culture and international development.
With so many agencies involved, collecting and verifying the necessary information is a huge task. Manual, paper-based systems were previously used to process and distribute benefits but this was complex and inefficient. Citizens and businesses had to submit the same information many times to different agencies, resulting in redundant data, errors, delays and – in some cases – agencies denying benefits to those entitled. The Flemish Government needed a way to streamline operations and provide citizens with a higher quality of service.
“We have two basic concepts in the Flemish administration,” says Luc Chauvin, CIO for the Flemish Government. “One was that we would never ask a citizen for the same information twice and the second was that we would make sure that the effort a citizen had to make would be minimal.”
Transitioning to a single repository for citizen information and a common web services platform has increased citizen satisfaction and reduced costs. For example:
- In the case of online scholarship applications, the government eliminated 250,000 paper forms. Rather than send each form back and forth several times, up to 500,000 mailings have been cut out of the budget, saving postage costs and staff time as well as benefiting the environment.
- Farmers applying for agricultural grants were previously asked for the same information from four different agencies for four different purposes. Now they only need to enter farm and livestock data once a year.
By enabling once-only data collection, the Flemish Government has established efficiencies in a number of areas. In 2013, the reduction on administrative burden was estimated at nearly €100M.
Governments have always aspired to be citizen-centric. Abraham Lincoln’s famous words “government of the people, for the people, by the people…” cut to the heart of this very issue. However, until now, getting to the core of true citizen-centric government through a deep understanding of the needs of constituent segments has been very difficult.
Citizen-centric governments put their customers – citizens and businesses – at the focal point of all key decisions, from budgeting to service design to channel for service delivery. The overriding questions are “Does this make sense for the constituent segment?” and “Does this deliver value?”
This outside-in perspective forces a very different discussion, shifting the conversation to how things should be done as opposed to how things are being done today. “Doing the right things” versus “doing things right.” “Joined up” government becomes a reality. Collaboration becomes the norm. Partnerships thrive.
Five key traits of citizen-centric governments
The shift from output to results is not easy and requires this citizen-centric, “customer first” orientation to filter through the entire enterprise. In order to make this shift, citizen-centric governments need to develop five key traits. These traits are manifested by a pervasive culture of asking a set of very incisive questions and then acting on them.
- Citizen-centric governments have a very granular view of their citizens. The ability to segment citizens and understand the issues and needs that are specific to each segment of the population is critical to developing this view.
- Key questions: Who are my “customers”? What is a meaningful way of segmenting the citizens – by age, income, location, gender, job status, special needs? What needs do these segments have? How are these needs changing? Do we serve all the segments well?
- They make some very explicit choices. They also understand that one size does not fit all. A deep understanding of citizens is reflected in budget priorities, choice of channels and the overall design and delivery of services. Services are now designed around needs as opposed to citizen needs being fitted to a set of services. Some hard choices are made in this process about which segments will – and, equally important – will not be served.
- Key questions: Which citizen segments are being served? Who is being left out of the service delivery equation? What are the implications? Will it matter to the citizen segments not being served? Why will it matter or not?
- They can clearly articulate the public value outcomes of their decisions. The focus is on outcomes as opposed to outputs across all aspects of the public value equation: efficiency to manage within tight budgets, quality of services, equity/inclusion and trust in government through security and privacy of information.
- Key questions: How does it create value to the citizen? Does it save time, cost less, provide better service? How will quality of the service be met? Is it secure? How is citizen information privacy being maintained? What metrics will indicate that outcomes are being delivered?
- They are very good at listening and connecting the dots. This is achieved through regular two-way communication and use of social media to understand the big issues and trends that have an influence on citizens. Listening and identifying both symptoms and opportunities becomes the norm.
- Key questions: What is the feedback from the citizen? How can we inform citizens of new or changes to the services? What trends on social media indicate an underlying issue? Can dots be connected to predict issues before they occur? Can success be accelerated?
- Finally, they are really focused on “joined up” operations. They focus relentlessly on simplification, integration and orchestration of multiple government agencies to provide seamless services to the citizen. They are passionate about collaboration, and about creating and sustaining an ecosystem that is best positioned to design/deliver services.
- Key questions: How can we get the best minds to work on this problem? How can we engage citizens directly and include them in the process? Can we get the private sector to bring their knowledge from other industries? How do we best align our own processes and structure to deliver the service? Should the service be delivered by in-house resources or is a partner better positioned to deliver?
The four pillars of the New Style of IT – big data, cloud, mobility and security – make what was previously impossible, possible.
Big data allows us to develop a very detailed understanding of the constituent, to identify trends and to target services to citizens when they need them. Cloud drives improvements in efficiency and accelerates access to resources and expertise and well as innovation. Mobility opens up completely new ways of addressing the “last mile” challenge to help create new customer experiences. Security helps improve trust in government.
All these innovations allow governments to be much more efficient, agile and resilient, and help them improve quality of life, drive economic growth and create sustainable communities.