22nd September 2020
How the public sector can set the innovation standard
Harold De Neef, Group Director, Cloud and Innovation, Civica
This article first appeared in Government News in September 2020.
Perceptions can be hard to change, and the persistent myth that government departments are slower to adapt to technological change has been around for many years now, writes Harold de Neef.
We still hear stories about how the public sector is missing out on opportunities to innovate. It is an unhelpful cliché that glosses over great work being done at all levels of government in Australia.
When it comes to long-term positive change for citizens, getting innovation right is more important than being first. Public sector innovators are driven to make a difference to society, and work in collaboration to deliver real outcomes for citizens, rather than establish and protect a competitive advantage.
At the heart of this innovation is the enabling force of the cloud, which opens new opportunities to change the way public sector organisations work, collaborate and deliver services to citizens. This focus is already shaping data-driven transformation projects throughout government.
Many health service providers are now using advanced data analytics to provide visibility on how budgets are used throughout hospitals and identify where operational efficiencies can be made. Libraries are exploring how they can use ethical AI to help them perform a role they would never have anticipated a decade ago: countering the flood of fake news and disinformation online.
This has been further accelerated over the past few months. Education institutions, health services, and local councils have all had to quickly adapt and move services online due to COVID-19. New solutions such as online learning platforms and telehealth have been tried and adopted in a short space of time, while existing digital channels have had to scale up to meet increased demand.
Australian public service adoption of the cloud is ahead of many other similar markets such as the UK, with a faster rate of adoption than I expected. It demonstrates Australian councils, agencies and government bodies are all committed to creating innovative new ways of delivering services to their citizens.
Citizen-centric design is also influencing how organisations operate. For example, local councils can deploy automation tools to conduct routine tasks enabling staff to focus on greater priorities. Chatbots can free up contact teams to spend more time dealing with citizens directly who need this support the most.
Best of both worlds
There remains, of course, a long way to go. Citizens’ expectations are no lower than those of customers – influenced by the very best digital experiences available. The customer service imperative for departments, agencies and councils is only getting stronger.
The public sector can further improve its capacity to meet its challenges and citizens’ demands head-on by harnessing the risk appetite and innovation investment of the private sector through partnerships with companies that share their goals and vision.
Innovation is done best when it is done in collaboration, bringing together the best minds from across business, academia and public services to create a real opportunity for successful transformation.
Innovation labs such as Civica NorthStar help partners align on a strategy and approach to innovation, and provide a means of co-creating innovative, citizen-centric services. We also work with councils and service providers to deploy managed services and cloud-deployed solutions to ensure regional and remote areas can also benefit and no communities are left behind.
Through partnerships like this, I believe the public sector can take the best from the private sector, while also playing a vital role in setting a new standard for responsible innovation – particularly in areas involving technologies, such as machine learning and AI. When it comes to risk and technology adoption, there are different forces driving decision-making in public and private sector organisations. The appetite for risk-taking is lower in the public sector, and rightly so. Taxpayer-funded organisations have responsibilities that private or listed companies do not.
If we are to realise the full potential of innovative technologies, both citizens and customers of private sector companies must have confidence in how organisations use their data – an area where the public sector has an opportunity and incentive to lead.
The prioritisation of technology in the public sector has never been more important to deliver superior citizen-centric services and provide local governments with the tools to sustainably deliver services and respond to challenges posed by COVID-19. We must not miss the opportunity to foster partnerships that strengthen our public sector digital infrastructure and set a new standard in responsible innovation.