As lockdown-bound consumers seek the convenience – and, increasingly, necessity – of online services, governments across Australia have made impressive strides to pivot their resources to meet this surging demand for digital.
The fast-tracking of online health resources and welfare support services by Australian governments, state and federal, during the Covid pandemic has been testament to this.
These online information portals are no doubt a positive step to supporting citizens in their time of greatest need. However, creating a consistently efficient, proactive, and personalised customer experience requires a major re-think in agencies’ back-office processes and, moreover, a recognition of their impact on front-end service delivery.
Delivering exceptional government services is, indeed, more than simply creating a static information site or a digital alternative to an existing paper process.
The importance of creating citizen-centric experiences cannot be underestimated. In citizens’ minds, the quality of a government service, often their only direct interaction with a public agency, is a yardstick for good governance.
According to global management consulting firm, McKinsey, a positive customer experience with government is liable to increase both trust and confidence in the agency’s delivery capability nine-fold.
John Asquith, ServiceNow’s head of innovation for government, agrees, believing customer experience is a critical vehicle to engender trust in, and satisfaction with, public agencies. By the same token, poor experiences can sow distrust and challenge the credibility of government as a faithful service provider for its citizenry.
Put simply, experience counts.
Enhancing customer experience today should thus be a foremost goal for every government department, Asquith stressed during his keynote presentation at the FST Government WA eConference.
“Most of us would agree that the customer’s overall service experience with government is what really counts,” he said.
For today’s time-poor consumers, a quality service experience is one that ultimately reduces the time spent, and the number of contacts required, to achieve a desired goal – whether that be filling out a JobKeeper application, ordering a new passport, or registering a new vehicle.
Fundamentally, it is about giving time back to citizens.
The critical digital overhaul for your back-office
For Asquith, a great digital experience is conditioned on an essential, and arguably long overdue, back-office overhaul – the digitisation of workflows.
“Behind every great experience, there’s a great digital workflow.”
This idea rests on the notion that employees’ productive capacities not only increase an agency’s service delivery capability but also its service quality.
Simply put, a good customer experience begins with a good employee experience – an experience that “motivates and engages” workforces to deliver “better outcomes for the community they serve”.
“We want to help people work the way they want to, not how most software dictates that they have to,” Asquith said.
Digital technologies should serve to free employees “from the mundane, menial tasks”, giving time back to “focus on the more meaningful activities in [their] lives”, Asquith said.
Unlocking this productivity dividend requires agencies to digitally overhaul “old, manual processes” – processes that still represent a significant proportion of agency workflows, creating significant roadblocks for efficient service delivery.
Digitising workflows – that is, the mostly manual, often paper-based processes required to complete a repeatable business task – is the foundational step to driving initiatives that can drastically improve workplace productivity, engagement, and quality of output.
By doing so, Asquith said, tasks can be distributed to and completed by the best person, or increasingly machine, for the job at hand. Indeed, through these workflows, employees are effectively bonded “together… as part of a holistic, connected enterprise”.
These digital workflows, he added, are vital to supporting employees working remotely or based in regional areas to complete tasks “without any impact to their ability to get work done”.
Critically, successful workflow digitisation opens the door to “augmentation by machines”, Asquith noted, not only reducing the need for human workforces to deal with repetitive and laborious administrative tasks, but giving staff the opportunity to engage in higher-level decision making that offers far greater value to the organisation.
While increasing efficiency, an automated workflow can also “reduce operational and reputational risks” resulting from human errors, improving workforce morale and productive capacities.
A digitised workflow also offers a potential window of “transparency” into organisational processes, giving citizens greater confidence their requests from government are being properly catered for.
According to Asquith, by “exposing internal processes” – while an operational and even psychological barrier for many government agencies to overcome – could allow citizens to track the status of their requests “without having to get on the phone or waiting for someone to get back to them with an update”.
“Getting those back-office workflows digitised and connected to the front office enables people to engage directly with every part of your organisation,” he said. Such moves could drastically improve public accountability in government.
“This now has to be the primary objective to enable services to be improved.”
For Asquith, machine learning and AI technologies are key to fully leveraging the benefits of automation. This intelligent automation enables machines to learn from people and establish benchmarks for what “good looks like”.
“Over time, machines can start taking the more menial work off them, enabling staff to spend more time on that meaningful work that needs the skills of a person to do the right thing.”
AI platforms can also extract actionable information from digital workflows, presenting relevant staff with the “right information and advice to make the best decisions”, Asquith said – decisions that ultimately benefit the citizens they serve.
Asquith cited the success of Kiwibank’s ‘Now’ platform – an automation layer that sits between back-office systems of record, its core banking systems, and customer service touchpoints – as an important case study for governments in leveraging digital workflows at the back-end to create more holistic and efficient services at the front.
According to Asquith, the implementation of ServiceNow’s automation platform within Kiwibank – which, being a government-owned institution, has a similar organisational framework in place to a public agency – has markedly “reduced employee effort [and] improved employee engagement”.
This, he said, has empowered staff to engage in “more meaningful work” that supports the bank’s customer service goals.
Initially, the platform was built with a compliance objective, designed to track and report changes in loan repayment conditions – a requirement under the NZ Commerce Commission’s mortgage transparency rules (with non-compliance resulting in a potentially $50 million fine).
This cornerstone compliance function has now been expanded to credit card application processing, appointment bookings, and “over time… to several hundred other processes”, Asquith said.
Having once relied overwhelmingly on “emails and spreadsheets” to define workflows, “like many other organisations”, he said, the bank’s new automation overlay has, “by reducing that inefficiency, saved tens of thousands of hours just in the first few services that they migrated”.
“It’s used across their branches, contact centres, operations and other teams to work on and automate customer processes to make them more efficient and effective”.
Since deployment, the system has recorded a 30 per cent improvement in customer retention, more than 16,000 hours in work time saved, and a 25 per cent reduction in new hire time to productivity.
At the onset of the Covid outbreak in New Zealand, the platform also supported the bank’s rapid “pivot to deliver new services, especially to support those in need and delivering those in a matter of days”.
According to Asquith, the Now platform has been deployed variously across government, particularly in the health sector, to support the surge in operations during Covid.
One of the commonly appreciated benefits of these rollouts, he said, is the speed at which they are developed, deployed, and have tangibly improved internal efficiencies.
“From an innovation perspective, it’s something that we’re loving to see.”
For Asquith, these implementations augur a positive transformational shift in the way government services can be delivered.
“The consequences of being able to solve problems at such a rapid pace is going to be transformational in its own right.”
From digital workflows, government blooms. ◼
John Asquith is the Head of Innovation for government business workstreams at ServiceNow where he helps public sector organisations drive innovation and provides innovation opportunities into the ServiceNow product portfolio.