At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK government announced its own contact tracing app, inspired by Singapore’s TraceTogether tool. However developers faced internal technical issues, and eventually scrapped their version months later, reported The Guardian.

When a new public service is rolled out, its flashy appearance can make it seem invincible. But appearances can be deceiving, as the internal workings is where the true test lies. Governments should focus their attention on building out strong foundations for their digital services.

Brian Chidester, Head of Worldwide Industry Strategy, Public Sector at OpenText, shares how data and automation enhances public services. He discusses the best practices for creating secure and reliable tools for citizens and public officials.

Appearances aren’t everything 

Some government services have focused on design rather than core IT processes, says Chidester. While the design for a new service became “prettier”, the internal workings were not updated, he explains.

One example of this was in the USA, where multiple states launched new unemployment insurance claims websites. These weren’t able to handle the influx of forms in the pandemic and crashed, Chidester shares.

Brian Chidester, Head of Worldwide Industry Strategy, Public Sector, OpenText

While the “shell of the website looks nicer and more inviting”, these new sites lacked the ability to support its own work. This is a challenge that governments must address in order to create future public services, he highlights.

What resilient public services look like 

Reliable services need to be accessible and automated, says Chidester. They must first be available on multiple platforms, including phones, tablets and computers, he says.

Secondly, automation should be built into these services to replace manual tasks like data entry. This creates resilience as the service is not dependent on human activity, and can continue operating automatically.

This not only provides more consistency for citizens but also allows public servants to use their time more efficiently. Government staff can now focus on high-level strategic issues rather than focusing on mundane tasks.

“Employees from every sector are no longer satisfied with mundane tasks occupying their day to day work,” says Randy Goh, Regional Vice President, OpenText Southeast Asia. “Adopting automation can be a much needed alternative,” he adds.

Randy Goh, Regional Vice President, OpenText Southeast Asia

How to build resilient public services 

Creating automated and accessible services is not as easy as downloading a piece of software. Agencies must have a clear strategy on how to manage data, which is the basis for automation and digital services.

One successful use of data in public service was in New Zealand’s Transport Agency, which oversees the country’s travel infrastructure.

The agency adopted a tool to share data including emails, spreadsheets and photographs. This database ultimately helped inform decision making on the agency’s services, OpenText reported.

“If you can’t trust the hygiene of the data that you’re using, then it’s really worthless,” highlights Chidester. OpenText can help organisations to manage their data, ensuring that insights can be drawn from the information.

OpenText can also help the public sector to ensure that data management can be shared seamlessly. Because it offers a single platform, organisations won’t face technical issues in stitching different data tools together, Chidester explains.

Data forms the backbone of modern public services,” says Yammie Wong, Sales Director at OpenText Southeast Asia. “Without reliable and accessible data, governments are blinded as they enter a new era,” she continues.

Yammie Wong, Sales Director, OpenText Southeast Asia

Setting up for security 

A public service can’t be considered future-proof without protections against cyberattacks. Governments need to understand the type of data that they’re going to be collecting, in order to store it securely, Chidester points out.

Holding personal citizen data makes public agencies a high value target for hackers, says Chidester. Ransomware has also been an ongoing threat across the world, he adds.

Data analytics can help public agencies tackle these security threats by identifying the most popular services in different periods of the year. Understanding these trends will inform managers on where staff should be assigned, boosting cybersecurity protections, he explains.

Public services require several strategic layers. On the surface they must be easy to use and accessible. But the deeper layers must enable automation and data collection to provide reliable services for citizens and government staff.