Public Services > Central Government

Digital Economy Bill: Unlocking the potential of data for local government

Published 29 July 2016

Stephen Morgan, co-founder of digital transformation business Squiz discusses The Digital Economy Bill and why data sharing needs to be transformed across the public sector

The Digital Economy Bill set out plans to transform how data is shared across public sector bodies as part of its commitment to improve public services. The aim of the bill is to make the UK “a world leader in digital provision”, promising “a place where technology continually transforms the economy, society and government.”

In light of Brexit however, there are questions about how the UK might be able to play this role and whether it can be viewed by other markets as that leader in digital and data. To address the issue, Matt Hancock has been appointed as minister for digital policy and he will be looking after digital strategy, enterprise and technology across digital public services. He is facing pressure to deliver on the government’s digital transformation strategy.

In recent years, tech has been touted as a winning industry for the UK, according to a Tech Nation report released recently, the digital economy grew 32% faster than the rest of the economy between 2011 and 2014. Talented companies within the sector are disrupting and improving existing industries, from retail and travel to entertainment – and the public sector should be no different in its approach to digital.

On-demand, personalised services have raised expectations

The use of data is key to creating personalised and sophisticated customer experiences and therefore providing better services for customers in the public sector. It’s essential that public services raise their game because private organisations and their modern approaches to delivering intuitive user experiences has shifted what is expected of all organisations. For example, we now expect our experience of renewing our council tax to be as simple as ordering an Uber cab. Technology companies that harness data, such as information about your location and your personal preferences, are raising the stakes for the public sector.

In addition, communication is now spread across an ever-growing number of channels and people expect to be able to easily switch between digital and analogue channels and have their interaction remembered. Citizens don’t want to have to continuously re-enter their data to their same council, paying your council tax shouldn’t mean re-entering your details if you’ve only entered these recently to pay for a car parking permit. In addition, if this experience isn’t good, citizens will default back to traditional, more costly channels such as call centres.

In this data-driven world, local governments have the potential to tap into the wealth of data provided to them. With the right tools it becomes possible to improve service delivery by capturing data in a CRM and using it in future interactions.

For example, we worked with the Electoral Commission on their ‘About my Vote’ website to develop a microsite for the EU Referendum. Squiz developed a centralised location for all referendum information so that users could, within one or two clicks, find out all the information they needed about voting. This ease of use was essential to the microsite’s success.

The service was also improved by connecting it to Facebook’s API. On the 23rd June Facebook included a voter information button on all UK users’ newsfeeds which linked to the UK voters’ microsite page. Google also linked to the page from their app Google Now Card. This activity resulted in more than 2.6m page views on the microsite page, 2.1m of which were unique users.

This was a great example of making a public service digitally accessible to voters and utilising data to personalise the experience for each individual. The referendum was important to everyone and the Electoral Commission needed to make the information easily accessible across digital channels. To have to trawl through information about every geographic location for instance would have been counterproductive as people would be unlikely to use the site.

Too many silos

Whilst the Electoral Commission is leading the way in using data, one of the problems local governments have faced in utilising data has been that this information is stored in various silos. Disconnected from one another, different departments are struggling to build a full picture of their users and, therefore, cannot serve them the experiences they have come to expect.

In addition, the issue of security of citizen data means it could well seem a monstrous task to get to grips with data for the public sector. Data in light of the EU referendum is another interesting point, as guidelines currently cover the EU as a whole. The legal changes afoot around data need to be considered carefully, for example, organisations will need to adhere to the new General Data Protection Regulation, which is expected to be introduced in 2017.

In order to harness data effectively systems also need to be restructured and data challenges need to be overcome. The value in restructuring systems is priceless. Firstly, because you can learn more about your users and secondly because you can use that information to improve the customer experience, offer more convenience and make savings as a result – people are calling out for personalisation, but without a good view of the citizen, how can you hope to begin to do it?

The Digital Economy Bill is expected to be considered for Royal Assent in spring 2017, by which time Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU will almost certainly be underway. The use of data to improve the UK’s public sector services should be a key consideration in this work. The public sector should be looking to the data it has available in order to progress its digital transformation strategy and make the service it offers to users much more sophisticated, whilst appearing to be simple. This is the only way that the public sector can meet the expectations that highly successful tech players have brought to customers.

Squiz recently partnered with Verint in order to provide consulting, technology and expertise to deliver market-leading digital transformation strategies for government.

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