Cloud can make every day better for public service organisations and their customers says Harold de Neef, group director, cloud, Civica
Call it the Amazon effect or the 'Uberisation' of services, most of us expect everything to be as easy and instantaneous as a one-touch car booking or a one-click payment. It doesn’t matter whether we’re interacting with our bank, ordering a pizza or paying council tax – it needs to be simple, intuitive and fast.
These demands continue to evolve. Being able to self-serve is increasingly the norm, whether through apps, online or via voice technology. Indeed, one recent study found that half of UK citizens see digital services as ‘very important’ to their daily lives, while a quarter use them wherever possible. And this is only going to increase. The implications are clear: there is now an expectation to offer citizens digital channels to self-serve.
However, it’s also important to remember that 10% of the UK adult population were still not online in 2018. This could be seen as a challenge or a huge opportunity to change how citizens are supported in the future.
Finding the balance
Public service organisations need to strike a balance in providing services via a range of channels to meet the varied requirements of citizens: from the tech-savvy who want to self-serve to the less able who require more support. At the same time, the key opportunity in moving to the cloud is to open the door to new technologies both now and the coming years.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots or robotic process automation have the potential to radically alter how public services are delivered. With cloud enabling teams to radically speed up the ability to analyse, process and make decisions based on accurate information, employees can be freed up from administrative tasks to focus on experience-enhancing programmes and outcomes. These technologies currently sound out of reach for public bodies, but they aren’t. This is why, investing in the infrastructure required to deliver them can and should be done now.
Improving the user experience
A great example of how the cloud is helping improve the user experience is North Yorkshire County Council. Serving over 600,000 citizens, the council collects a wide variety of payments totalling £5.5 million annually. Due to the region’s size and location, it isn’t always easy for citizens to reach the local post office or council especially during working hours.
By implementing Civica’s cloud payments software, CivicaPay, the council can now offer an improved service for all citizens, letting them securely pay for services in convenient ways such as PayPal, Apple Pay and PayPoint, as and when suits. An essential added benefit is that this means the council can now collect income faster, process it quickly and improve cash flow, ultimately improving its financial health.
Building more innovative services
Cloud computing has been discussed in the context of IT in public services for a number of years now. But the rapid pace of change means it’s undoubtedly the key to providing the experience and service levels that customers want. Increased automation and self-service free up frontline employees to focus on those citizens who require more help. In other words, cloud allows public service organisations to deliver tailored services to their different audiences, without impacting either citizen or employee experiences.
The latter is just as important as the former, even though it often gets overlooked. In the UK, the percentage of people in paid work in the public sector in March 2018 was the lowest proportion since comparable records began in 1999, which means that employees are constantly having to deliver more, with less people. At a time when UK public sector morale remains low after years of austerity-driven pay freezes and budget cuts, it’s important that public employees are able to do their jobs effectively giving them a deserved sense of fulfilment. This should not only boost morale, but also help keep knowledgeable, experienced people in the public sector where they are needed.
Organisations need a reliable, cost-effective infrastructure that can deliver both now and in the future. Updating technology to deliver better services in a cost-effective manner through cloud and new innovations like artificial intelligence, chatbots, or process automation are critical to meet our citizen’s evolving expectations. The only way to do that is through the cloud. While many public sector organisations are already reaping the benefits that cloud delivers, more must be done to accelerate the cloud journey and ensure that our public services are fit for the future. This is important for our public services, our citizens and our country.
For practical advice on how public service organisations can make every day better with cloud, download the 'better, faster and more innovative public services report here