The digital steam train (or is that light rail) continues to career ahead. Every day Ministers, Department Heads, policy officers articulate the need for services to go digital.
A significant part of our work is looking at digital services strategically and developing digital services for clients. As we are currently in the headspace because of a digitisation project across the broadest of customer groups who regularly interact with non-government digital products and services, we wanted to capture the lessons we’ve learnt about what digital even means in a public sector service setting.
What is a service, What is a digital service?
A service is the seeking and receipt of a specific outcome of a customer/user across a range of interactions and touchpoints over time. The value of the service is as much about the quality of the experience for all the people involved (customer, service provider) as it is about the resolution.
To us, a digital service is simply where any aspect of that service, as defined above, utilises any aspect of ICT to enable and/or deliver the desired outcome to the customer. The value of the service is enhanced by the use of digital technology, not marked out by it.
What we think it means when government says it wants a digital service
While there are many areas of government that are digital converts for the right reasons, the drivers that send government to digital aren’t always about the service part of digital service.
The desire for digital services is generally wrapped in the customer-friendly language of ‘access and ease of use’, but invariably the motivation for ‘having a digital service’ seems to still be a range of factors that are very much from the government (at any level) point of view:
- “We need to reduce costs and digital will be cheaper because the service is online and I’ll need less people.”
- “The digital service will be entirely automated which will enable (or force) customers and clients to ‘self-manage’ which puts them in charge of their service experience.”
- “We’re expected to reduce red tape and move things to digital to suit a whole-of-government directive.”
We think that when government uses the words ‘digital service’ it is often referring to transaction, not the broader definition of service. But part of the drive to digital from government must be that it is done for the right reason – a better service experience or outcome.
Four* lessons we’ve learned
A digital channel is critical. Crucial. Not optional for any organisation. But we’re service designers, not UXers, nor interaction designers or even technologists. What we see, and have been lucky enough to do when creating digital services from scratch are captured in these four un-ordered lessons:
- Digital service not only extends beyond the interaction or channel, it extends beyond what the public sector might even define as the service. This means that when a client asks for a transaction or data collection activity (i.e. form filing) to be digitsed where they actually need to start is by understanding the services system in order to change and improve what the service actually is from the customer perspective.
- Conversely, it’s not good enough for the public sector service deliverer to only think of digitising a transaction, they need to think about the designed service within which the transaction is available. This comes from our experience, and from the frustrations of clients who come to us having to build on platforms and decisions that don’t understand how they actually operate or their capabilities. It means the expectation that existing core digital platforms can even cope with the introduction of a range of digital services should be explored early – if the experience is to be a so-called seamless one.
- There is a an educated expectation on the part of customers that moving a service online means customers expect to see a corresponding, if not direct, drop in charges. This means service deliverers are dealing with government- and digital service-savvy customers who believe that digital is cheaper for the public sector to run and deliver.
- Probably don’t make it an app. This means make it device-agnostic, and consider the volume of transactions and regularity of the use of the service to determine whether the customer is willing to engage with it on the valuable digital real estate that carry around with them daily. Post-script to this lesson is make sure your organisation has a policy of responsive development for multi-device delivery.
Digital isn’t the end game, it’s just another in a long line of service game-changers – albeit a huge one. So making sure the service is designed – with customers, users and organisational sustainability in mind – should always be the starting point.
*as always, we have four lessons now, but we reserve the right to learn more!