In a rapidly changing world and with many uncertainties in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of government services is an important question for both policy makers and citizens alike. This year, 2021, is expected to witness a number of trends related to public services.
Trend 1: Acceleration of Digital Transformation of Public Services
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards the provision of digital government services, a trend which is expected to gain more momentum in 2021 with governments around the world providing more digital services and improving user experience across their digital channels. Digitization of public services provides enhanced accessibility while at the same time reducing costs, time and efforts for both the public sector and those interacting with it, whether residents or businesses.
The use of a single portal for the various government services allows for a seamless user experience with the residents accessing information based on their needs whether personal or business through that single digital channel. A single digital channel with a unified look and feel across the public services can increase the trust in the government’s “digital brand”, furthermore, it can facilitate and promote adoption since users become more familiar with the solutions used for recurring services.
Many countries are currently offering a number of digital public services, with more countries planning to offer their public services online. In Denmark, the government has national portals offering various government services for residents and businesses, with 92% of the population currently communicating with the government using their secure messaging application. Germany has plans to make all government services online by 2022. In Dubai, Smart Dubai, the government entity responsible for digital transformation, provides assistance to public authorities in running “design sprints” for digital service journeys. The DubaiNow app, hosted by Smart Dubai, provides access to more than 120 government and private sector services from over 30 entities.
Trend 2: Increased Automation of Public Services
Another major trend for 2021 is the use of automation for public services delivery, which can significantly increase productivity by freeing up human support for more important citizen-facing roles and tasks. According to a study conducted by McKinsey Global Institute in 2017, around 40% of administrative jobs, including public administration jobs, can be automated. To harness the benefits of automation, governments need to adopt an “agile-at-scale operating model” with the various government departments collaborating to provide a seamless customer journey with a focus on simplicity, reliability, and consistency. To harness this trend, governments need to identify the skills needed to move public servants from back offices into citizen-facing roles.
Countries are increasingly automating public services which helps in minimizing mistakes and inaccuracies in the provision of services as well as saving citizens’ time and energy when engaging with government bodies. In Australia, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has automated its tax-return process, which was rated among the best Australian federal government services. The automated tax-return system features prefilled annual tax returns using data provided to the ATO, in addition to alerting users to review their entries if the figures they entered are not in line with figures provided by people with similar circumstances. In Germany, the German Federal Employment Agency has automated the registration for unemployment through the use the “Selfie-Ident” program allowing applicants to apply through an app guiding them to record a video of themselves and to make images of their identity document to register with the agency as unemployed without an in-person visit.
Trend 3: Expansion in Using Artificial Intelligence (AI)-Enabled Tools
The use of AI-enabled tools during the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated to governments the importance of expanding AI solutions to increase the efficiency of internal operations as well as responsiveness to citizens’ needs. Many countries, including Denmark, the UK, Estonia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, have used AI to scale self-service tools as well as personalize services tied to life events such as childbirth and retirement. Governments need to invest to update legacy data and computing systems as well as retrain civil servants to implement and scale AI solutions and fully capture their potential.
To harness this trend, governments need to start with setting a clear vision and strategy to ensure the various government bodies work in a coordinated manner. It is also recommended to start with “quick wins” or small pilot projects with potentially high impact to increase interest and credibility and build up to transformational use cases which may take longer to implement. In order to ensure successful government-wide AI adoption, governments need to build trust in the integrity and security of AI and data sharing through transparency regarding AI uses.
Trend 4: Rising Interest in Collective Intelligence
Collective intelligence, in other words the “collective brainpower of the crowds”, is embodied in the collaboration of groups pf people in providing a wider range of information, ideas and insights with the result of this collaboration being more than the sum of its parts. Many governments have sought to harness the benefits of collective intelligence including the UK where a global platform was set up to recruit and manage 750,000 NHS volunteers to help provide vital care to people self-isolating as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Taiwan, the vTaiwan platform, launched in 2015, enabled the participation of more than 200,000 people in an effort to create consensus on some of the regulatory issues concerning digital economy, which resulted in in 26 pieces of legislation passed through Taiwan’s parliament.
Trend 5: Expansion in the Provision of Contactless or No-Touch-Services
COVID-19 has accelerated cashless transactions and expanded contactless or no-touch services, a trend which is expected to continue and expand in 2021. Governments are increasingly providing digital services automatically and in some instances without citizens initiating the transactions. For instance, in Austria, hospitals notify the central civil registry when a child is born, upon which data is shared with the ministry of finance and the local tax offices to disburse allowance.
Keeping the momentum going for contactless government services requires commitment from leaders to make it a priority. Governments need to think of ways to reduce friction points for services that can’t be delivered digitally. The development and use of unified digital identities need to be advanced to allow citizens to use a single login to access services. Governments also need to think about how to ensure privacy laws are being followed as they implement next-generation contactless technology, such as the facial recognition systems.