Everyone knows the old mantra that ‘the customer is always right’.
Of course most people also know that the customer isn’t always right – but the broader point still stands that if you’re providing someone with a service then you should be listening to and serving their needs, not dictating them.
This is also true when it comes to the broad array of services provided by the public sector here in the UK.
While the relationship between state and taxpayer isn’t an exact like-for-like with, say, a customer in a restaurant (since some people will pay more taxes than others, while all receiving largely the same services in return), the sentiment and expectation here holds true.
And as services become increasingly digitised, and we work more closely with government departments to facilitate this shift to digital, it’s vital that we remember this customer-focused mantra.
A generation defined by change
Our latest report, Technology in a Transforming Britain, highlighted that for many people living and working in the UK, the societal shifts that have been brought on by technology can be a source of worry.
Almost half of the business and civil service leaders interviewed for the study said they’re worried about the impact these shifts will have on their organisations. And 40% of the public said they believe the changes are having a negative impact on employment opportunities specifically – 46%, meanwhile, reported feeling negative about tech-driven transformations in general.
The report’s findings highlight the responsibility of the public sector and its technology partners to ensure new services are co-created with citizens and public service eco-system providers.
Too often, people can feel like change is something that’s done to them rather than in concert with them.
When we think about the ‘digital citizen’ and what that will look like in 2025, our picture should be informed by the changes that people want to see not based on what technology can do but the better citizen outcomes technology can enable.
The proliferation of consumer technology means that more and more people are becoming accustomed to using technology to get things done in their private lives. How they use technology to access public services should be informed by their wants and needs
It’s simply not good enough to just provide digital services – or a digital version of existing services – and expect citizens to adapt.
Two things to get right
This provides both a challenge and an opportunity to government and other public sector organisations.
How can we use technologies like artificial intelligence, data analytics, machine learning and hybrid cloud to provide more personalised, proactive services? How can technology be applied to build these services around individuals, family and community needs triggered by life events and episodes?
There are two things that we have to get right to be successful here.
Public services are all about trust, and trust is something that must be earned.
In order to have properly joined-up digital services, which offer as frictionless an experience as possible for citizens, public sector workers need to be able to access shared pools of data where consent and secondary use has been agreed to enable simpler and more personalised services.
But in a post-GDPR world, citizens are increasingly aware (and wary of) how their personal data is used.
Without demonstrating that this data can be held, accessed, processed, and ultimately used securely and to a beneficial effect, it will be difficult for the public sector as a whole to gain the trust of the people it serves.
Secondly, the digital skills gap.
At Fujitsu we do a huge amount of work in support of improving digital skills and STEM adoption.
Some people are more digitally savvy than others, and more trusting of technology too. Older generations, for example, or people with more complex needs may be less willing to alter the way they interact with public sector service providers, or do not have access to technology.
Ultimately, this comes down to user experience. And when you’re providing a public service, your user base is just about as diverse as it gets.
Preference and personalisation, as mentioned above, can play a role here too – once you’ve secured your citizens’ trust of course.
Building a better future
Despite these apparent challenges, the opportunities are vast.
At Fujitsu, our goals are aligned with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. It’s a point of pride for us as a company, and serves as a particularly relevant guiding path when it comes to supporting the public sector.
With the belief that technology can be a real force for good – and a key tool in creating a fairer and more open society for all – it’ll be possible to deliver a digital future less defined by a public fear of change.
But that delivery process must begin with discovering what people want from their public services providers. They are the customer, after all – and the customer is always right.