The transformative power of technology: Innovations in human services delivery

The transformative power of technology: Innovations...

Technology is profoundly changing the way we live, communicate and interact. It is also transforming the provision of human and social services, offering new ways for governments to deliver services and connect with citizens.

Global Lead for Human Services

KPMG Australia

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Smartphones, mobile apps, social media, cloud data solutions. Technology is profoundly changing the way we live, communicate and interact. It is also transforming the provision of human and social services, offering new ways for governments to deliver services and connect with citizens.

The pace of change is staggering, a trend that is forecast to continue – and which presents enormous challenges and opportunities for governments.

Tight budgets are often a motivating factor for technological change: the mantra of doing more with less is pervasive. But government leaders also want to do more to help their constituents: not only those with the most pressing needs – such as the homeless, at-risk children, senior citizens, people with developmental challenges – but all citizens who want their interactions with government to be convenient and quick.

@gov will be exploring these themes in a series of articles published over the coming months. 

The challenges of digitizing human services

Governments are bulky, complex, and vast. Their huge scale and multifaceted mandate has traditionally been managed by developing a layered organization from top to bottom – from national to local – and populating each layer with innumerable departments, each with a different focus. That has created significant structural and operational challenges.1

With great size comes an institutional aversion to risk, and the monopoly position of governments can mean they lack incentives to deliver the best, most innovative services in order to retain their customers. The citizen, after all, cannot go elsewhere for the same service.

With the imperative to compartmentalize comes a silo mentality, as departments develop unique processes and customized IT solutions. And although budgetary pressures sometimes force innovation, they can also encourage a tendency to stick with outmoded technology and procedures.

Now, governments risk being left behind if they continue to provide services as they did fifty or more years ago. Fortunately, while the challenges of embracing new technologies are temporary, the opportunities are already with us and the benefits are long term.

The benefits of digital innovation

Technology is enabling the exchange of information on a previously unimaginable scale, allowing related government agencies and external service providers to share data and coordinate their efforts. It is also providing governments with far more data than ever before about what citizens need, who uses government services, how they do so and with what effect.

As delivery modes advance and the varying impact of services is better understood, new technology is making services much more efficient and effective. Among other topics we’ll explore in our series are two highly promising technological developments.

Mobile apps

We will look at the power of mobile apps to improve service delivery in myriad ways: supporting vulnerable citizens, delivering counselling, improving child care practice, to name just a few. The technology benefits citizens very directly, too. Mobile apps allow them to register for services, claim benefits, update their information – all without having to visit an office or wait on the phone.

Research has already discovered that citizens in need are more likely to use mobile technologies than they are to turn to the web. Harnessing that trend can improve the lives of citizens across a spectrum of need.

Predictive analytics

We’ll also explore the use of predictive analytics to better protect children, prevent homelessness and anticipate service demand.

Most governments already have information they could use to identify people in need of assistance. Geographic and predictive metadata can pinpoint citizen risk factors, and highly sophisticated data analysis can inform policy development and improve outcomes by helping providers to target and deliver services more effectively, often at a lower cost.

Strategic trends in service delivery

The expectations of citizens are clear. As they experience growing convenience in their commercial interactions – finding information and purchasing services with increasing speed and ease – they want government to have similarly contemporary communication and service delivery systems.

To meet those expectations, governments must step away from the old, compartmentalized modes and take a strategic approach to reshaping the delivery of human services:2

  • Integrating services and service delivery across departments and agencies. In order to break down silos, governments have to secure commitment at senior levels, define the goals, and develop appropriate processes and ways to evaluate progress.
  • Partnering with private-sector and not-for-profit organizations. Today, innovation is coming from outside government: from academic institutions, not-for-profits, and private businesses. Collaborating with these sectors will provide needed expertise and uncover best practices.
  • Creating a user-friendly portal to a wide array of related services. Broadening citizen access is a key aspect of enhancing service delivery, through unified, easy-to-use client pathways that keep the user experience in focus.
  • Tailoring solutions to specific community needs. To avoid program overlaps, inefficient investment and ill-fitting outcomes, place-based planning must drive the way governments deliver services.
  • Developing metrics that focus on meaningful outcomes for the consumer rather than the agency. Performance indicators need to measure the impact of services on human experience, not simply the program outputs.

These trends are essentially strands of an ecosystem approach to human and social services. By using technology to share information, connect users and services, and work collaboratively across service areas, governments will optimize their resources and transform the experience of citizens.

Understanding the citizen’s perspective

Information is powerful, and technology delivers information to both the service provider and the service consumer. Successful innovation in healthcare, crisis services, senior services, financial aid or any other area of human and social services involves first rethinking the business-as-usual approach and then incorporating technology to provide solutions.

Most of all, technology is allowing government to make a transformational shift from delivering programs one agency at a time to focusing on their role from the citizen’s perspective.


Liz Forsyth (lforsyth@kpmg.com.au) is KPMG’s Global Lead for Human and Social Services. Within Australia Liz leads KPMG's National Health, Ageing and Human Services practice, a key advisor to government as well as the private and not-for-profit sectors.

Footnotes

1 These observations are drawn in part from Forbes Insight, Digitizing Human Services: Field notes and forecasts from the front lines of government’s technological transformation (2015).

2 These insights are based in part on findings outlined in KPMG International, The Integration Imperative: Reshaping the delivery of human and social services (October 2013), and on Forbes Insight, Digitizing Human Services.
 

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