The outcome of the government’s digital strategy has been higher adoption of on-line services and the introduction of new technologies – including social media, mobility, analytics and cloud computing. But as government delivers services that are simpler, clearer and faster to use it also creates increased expectations.
First, citizens demand services that are often universal but also reflect the levels of personalisation they get as private consumers. But government operates as a series of silos. Services, processes and technology reflect inward-looking departmental needs.
Second, the public finances demand that government boost productivity using innovative digital technologies. The government saved £18.6 billion in 2014-15 through various reform projects. But the savings attributable to digital transformation are significant but relatively small (£391m).
In an environment of increasing citizen demands and top-down cost reductions, how can technology help government be more responsive but at least cost?
Government as a Platform might reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and costs
Two years ago the Government Digital Service (GDS) set out to transform twenty-five major public services. Twenty digital ‘exemplars’ are now publicly accessible. GDS continues to work with departments to build these and other services in agile and iterative ways.
The next phase of the government’s strategy is ‘Government as a Platform’ (GaaP). This is the sharing of the core infrastructure of systems, technology and processes across departments. GOV.UK Verify is a good example. Rather than having to prove who you are to every government department, Verify uses certified companies (and public and private sector data) to confirm a person’s identify once and for all. Other potential platforms are payment processing, case management and appointment bookings – common services used all around government.
GaaP offers a number of potential benefits. First, enhanced user satisfaction by eliminating the need for a citizen to input unnecessary data and information. Second, cost savings by eliminating administrative procedures and processes (and associated transactions) that are not needed. Third, wider economic benefits by making the data open, as others who are unrelated to government can create new businesses that complement public services. Forth, citizens or community groups might also use this data to hold government to account.
Tailored and automated services offer even greatest benefits
In the private sector an ability to share systems and data through technology is leading to a more personalised service. A user is in full control of navigating, choosing and terminating a set of offers. Back-office integration enables the private sector to offer proactive, enhanced and efficient services.
How might this approach be applied in the public sector? At its most simple, the government might pre-fill data in an application form that it already possesses, based on taxation or benefit entitlements, and notify the citizen via email or text of any changes. But more significant improvements to the quality and cost of public services are available through the analysis of this data (a data platform), leading to earlier and more focused interventions.
For example, approximately 40% of hospital admissions in England are unplanned admissions. They are a problem for hospitals because they are costly and disruptive and increase waiting times. Vulnerable patients with complex physical or mental health needs tend to be the biggest problem.
The detailed analysis of historic patient level data, identification of patterns and predictive risk modelling can predict and identify ‘at risk’ individuals. Unplanned admissions can then be avoided through changes to the hospital discharge process and better co-ordination of care.
Taking it to the next level, ICT-enabled simulation and decision-support tools are also able to analyse large and complex socio-economic data sets on deprivation, crime, health, education, etc. This deeper analysis can inform early intervention and screening programmes, with resources focused on communities and individuals who most need them.
Costs can be avoided by highlighting incidences of unnecessary care or delays in treatment. And by making evidence-based information about options, outcomes and uncertainties available, patients are also in a better position to make informed choices about the treatments available to them.
This proactive approach may not be appropriate for all types of service. It will, for example, depend on access to necessary data and protection and legal access. But, when applied to high-risk and often disproportionately high cost individuals, the savings potentially far outweigh the up-front costs of investment.
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