At the start of the pandemic, elderly and infirm citizens across the world found themselves in vulnerable situations, not able to leave their homes for vital supplies like food and medicine. Governments needed to act fast to help their citizens where it was most needed.

When helping in difficult situations like this, time is of the essence. Governments can respond to the real time events around them if they have the right technology to do so.

Damien Wong, Vice President, APAC at Confluent shares how citizens can benefit from government services that adapt to their changing needs, and how restructuring data systems can make this possible.

What real time services look like

Governments can be proactive in providing services for people by using data that is collected and used in real time. This can be illustrated in a hypothetical example of a citizen who has recently lost their job due to the pandemic, says Wong.

Imagine that the manpower ministry is informed that a citizen has become unemployed. If real time data is being shared across the government, other ministries can then offer their services. Social services could offer financial support, or workforce agencies could highlight their reskilling programmes.

Agencies across government can use this employment update to anticipate the needs of citizens, giving them proactive support. The last thing citizens want to do in that situation is fill out a bunch of forms, trying to figure out which agencies need to be contacted, Wong shares.

Receiving a proactive response from the government gets citizens “more engaged and much happier”, he says.

Changing the perspective on data

There are two types of data that governments can use, explains Wong.

First, there is state-based data like citizen data that doesn’t move and often doesn’t change. This includes information like a citizen’s date of birth, their name, their residential address. This “data at rest” is kept in siloes, with each ministry having their own collection of information.

Second, there is real time data, which is equally important, he says. This real time data, known as “data in motion”, is continuously created as citizens go through certain life events, for example graduating from university, getting a job, getting married and having children.

These life events can trigger ministries to proactively offer their services to citizens.

The challenge for governments is that their data is traditionally kept in siloes, with each department not sharing its information. The agency will then apply data analytics to this data to try and develop insights.

“This approach does not work particularly well” for managing real time inputs, says Wong. Running these analytics on siloed data is a slow process that doesn’t allow for proactive services to reach citizens in time, he adds.

A government central nervous system

Governments can adopt a “central nervous system” to ensure that ministries are sharing real time data with one another.

When a human being puts their hand on a hot stove, they react instantly. This is because the central nervous system acknowledges the feeling of heat, and turns that into action to avoid further harm, he explains.

A similar system can be adopted across governments, where a central platform takes in real time citizen information and then enables the appropriate agency to instantly act upon it.

Confluent can help organisations to set up their own central nervous system, its website explains. The platform will transform raw data into useful information by ensuring that data is stored in a consistent way that aligns with the government agency’s security and privacy regulations.

This central nervous system is what enables the kinds of customer experiences and intelligent real time operational systems that are increasingly required in the world today, he emphasises.

It will continuously update as citizens move through different life events, and provides a convenient way for agencies to receive updated information and then respond accordingly.

Governments can proactively provide services before the citizen even begins applying for them, but this will require a shift towards real time data, and governments will need the right tools to make that possible.