Sir Michael Barber established the UK’s first Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit in 2001, and appeared at press briefings with flip charts and statistics all with one aim: to ensure that public service reforms were delivered as promised.

This “deliverology” approach advocates for the use of big data and a better understanding of how to shape reforms to benefit citizens. Good citizen services is the aim of every agency – but governments have found that it’s often easier said than done.

At a recent roundtable, Singapore’s public sector leaders joined ServiceNow and Microsoft to discuss how governments can create citizen-centric services.

Put yourself in their shoes

Citizen expectations are very high today as government services are being benchmarked against “the best in class”, said VITAL. Public officers need to put themselves in the shoes of citizens to understand their needs and design even better services.

The agency offers Shared Services support in the realm of HR, finance and procurement across all ministries and statutory boards in Singapore’s government. It’s looking at robotic process automation tools to make admin work easier, and has built a bot library for different agencies to share their expertise.

The Open Government Products team, a unit under the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), also believes that governments need to understand users’ pain points and fine tune the implementation of services.

“There’s all these project requirements that go into the pipeline. But often at the front end of things, we actually skip this step of checking whether the idea we had discussed in senior leadership meetings is actually something that’s faced by people on the ground,” said Open Government Products.

Being “obsessed about the customer” is important, believes the Inland Revenue of Singapore. The tax agency is using data analytics to understand and pre-empt customer needs, as well as monitor the service quality of contacts to coach agents in improving service experiences.

For Singapore’s healthtech agency IHiS, improving consumer digital services requires that product teams develop “a sense of empathy with the end user”. The most relevant example is their work developing HealthHub, a national one-stop mobile app and portal for citizens’ health records, e-transactions and health promotion content.

To illustrate this, when Covid struck, IHiS repurposed an existing module on HealthHub that displays the Covid-19 test results as soon as they are available, thereby reducing the waiting time needed for citizens to receive their results. This helps to alleviate the anxiety, especially of parents, who are waiting for the Covid-19 test results.

Transform legacy systems and silos

Many agencies have already embarked on digital transformation, but the challenge is that the work is always unstructured and happens across different disparate systems, says Karen Chong, Country Manager for ServiceNow.

Simple life events may require multiple interactions with different agencies, she adds, which would require citizens to repeatedly provide the same information and access multiple websites.

Agencies will need to modernise systems and remove silos “from request to resolution” to deliver great citizen experiences, Chong says. This often requires more than a tool – a cloud-based platform that can connect workflows across departments and agencies will be helpful.

ServiceNow has partnered Scotland’s NHS to roll out a cloud-based vaccine management system in six weeks. The system collects data from local clinics and general health boards to streamline the national inoculation programme.

IHiS turned to the cloud to quickly deploy vaccine operations and set up community care facilities to house Covid-19 positive patients. With the cloud, however, agencies have to carry out a “balancing act” between security and innovation.

GovTech is moving towards infrastructure for agencies to embrace more cloud and Software-as-a-Service applications, which are hosted on and accessible via the Internet. Solutions that embrace data residency, data privacy, and common open standards (via proprietary standards) will be helpful for agencies.

New approaches to innovation

Governments are operating in unchartered territory today, and need to be agile and responsive to citizen needs. That requires new approaches to innovation.

The Open Government Products team has taken to building new tools quickly. It targets to build prototypes within a week, and the idea will be scaled only if the prototype is successful.

“The best way we found to generate good tech ideas as a society is not to have one noble leader with all the best ideas … It’s about having a marketplace where a whole bunch of people try a whole bunch of different ideas.” The team works to replicate this mantra internally.

Microsoft encourages public agencies to harness the value of citizen developers in their digital transformation journey. Transport Canada worked with Microsoft to deploy a low-code platform on Power Apps for employees to develop apps quickly, resulting in faster time to value, says Seow Khun Lum, its Director of the Public Sector Group. The platform helped to reduce development time with lower cost per app.

“Green skills” which incorporate concepts of sustainability and circular economy should be infused into core IT skills, she further commented.

Delivering great citizen experiences is at the heart of every agency. With the right tools and skill sets, governments will be able to deliver responsive citizen-centric services.