The argument for digitising public services often revolves around cost. Certainly that's an important driver – the government estimates it can save £1.7bn through its digital by default agenda - but going digital can also bring benefits for the local community.
Recent research from Vodafone found that community trust in public services is a vital component of a strong community: 71% of public sector leaders surveyed named this as a top contributor to strong communities, making it more important than things like cultural integration or a strong local economy.
Yet just one in five public leaders (21%) believed that their local community has full trust in public services, and when asked to name their top priorities the most popular response (cited by 26% of respondents) was engendering trust in their organisation.
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How can technology help address this challenge? Firstly, efficient use of technology is an end in itself. As a cost-cutting exercise, smarter technology makes government cheaper, which is welcomed by the public.
But efficient technology can be a means as well, most notably to more positive community engagement. Using technology to improve productivity frees up valuable time that the employee can spend on activities which add value to services, such as visiting clients. These activities in turn can help to improve public trust in the organisation.
Vodafone’s research also sheds light on the problems which public sector leaders are facing as they get to grips with the ‘digital by default agenda. Nearly a quarter (22%) of leaders don’t understand what ‘digital by default’ means, and less than a tenth say they have achieved it across all of their services.
Besides legacy systems and employees who lack IT skills, obstacles include maintenance support for outdated technologies and internal resistance to change. And if there isn’t internal resistance to change, there’s likely a lack of clear strategy, which nearly 60% of public sector leaders report as an issue within their department.
Compounding these obstacles is the need to find significant savings across public sector budgets, which can put a hamper on the most well-intentioned moves toward change. The report outlines a number of ways in which public sector organisations can meet this challenge, including advice on where to find the tech-savvy employees who will help to transform public sector’s approach to digitisation.
Technology is also changing the way service providers communicate with their customers, and public sector could realise great benefits by taking a strategic view of the channels it uses to talk to citizens. Vodafone’s paper gives fresh insight into the uses and limitations of channels such as text messaging, face to face and social media.
For example, it argues that public sector organisations should be building their communications strategies around social media, since this bridges the benefits of websites and face to face channels, being “the new integrator: both efficient and collaborative, informative and easy to use.”
The public sector wants to become digital by default, and with the right investment and guidance it will do so. The benefits as this happens will go beyond efficiency savings – they will even go beyond the public sector as improved public services, designed and optimised for a digital world, contribute to stronger communities across the country.
To download the full report with details of research and advice, click here