Traditionally the public sector has lagged behind private business in terms of adopting the latest technology, but it has recently taken some positive steps towards digitisation. So what is it the public sector lacks that the public needs? Increased efficiency, easier processes and shorter waiting times are key points that some organisations have begun to address by developing apps, binning paper and using social media to serve the public. But what impact will this have and what could be next on the agenda?
Up-to-date Public, Out-of-date Sector
Brits collectively check their smartphones 1.1 billion times a day. A whopping two-thirds now own a smartphone, using them nearly two hours every day to browse the internet. As a nation, we have become addicted to our smartphones, expecting them to do endless amounts, from checking our banking to booking taxis and paying for our shopping.
These devices have paved the way for improving efficiency and convenience in our everyday lives, but when we approach matters in the public sector, we often have to revert to using outdated processes, such as writing letters and holding face-to-face meetings. Despite the slow start, the public sector has begun to respond to the demands of society and has updated some basic processes.
So what has been digitised?
Public sector organisations are clocking on to the fact that the outdated processes they use are wasting important resources, valuable time and frustrating the society they seek to help. In order to avoid alienating a younger demographic that has grown up living and breathing technology, several organisations have begun to adapt.
First and foremost we can see digitisation influencing the way the police conduct their work. In Cambridgeshire, the police will begin Skyping appointments with members of the public as a way to help cut time spent travelling to and from various locations, which also means decreasing waiting times. When capturing perpetrators, time is of the essence, so handing back valuable time to police officers means they are able to work more efficiently and, hopefully, arrest criminals sooner.
Reading Borough Council has also recently developed a web app targeted at young people, to get help, advice and support on employment, work experience, volunteering and mentoring. It is essential that public sector bodies follow this lead and tap into how the younger generations operate – through their smartphones, using the internet. Using an app is often the easiest and most effective way to engage with the demographic.
Most prominently the NHS has recognised the need to innovate by announcing its commitment to becoming paperless. Implemented properly it can save time, money, protect the environment and help patients more effectively. In a similar fashion, HMRC has announced to users that it prefers communication via Twitter and live web-chats over phone calls, in a bid to speed up processes and avoid missing customer complaints and queries. These are steps in the right direction, without a doubt, but how much further can the digital agenda be pushed?
I’ve already cited an example of the police force seeking digital efficiencies but adopting technology can also help officers stay one step ahead of criminals. The next step for the police force in the UK could be taking the approval of arrest warrants digital.
This has already been rolled out in the US, with the likes of Butte County police now able to have warrants approved on the go, saving critical time in the pursuit of criminals. Police officers often have to return to the office or even to a magistrate directly to have an arrest warrant signed. In this time a criminal could have destroyed evidence or moved to a new location. By taking the process digital, officers can avoid this useless travel time and instead deliver justice quicker and more effectively.
Through digitisation, the public sector can begin to see its time, money and efficiency vastly improved. Whilst some people are reticent to see technology take over the more traditional processes, it isn’t a bad thing, it is instead an opportunity to deliver justice, serve patients or help those in need quicker. Instead of being worried about this move, we need to welcome public servants being armed with tablets, wearables and smart cameras and ensure that in a number of years, outdated technology will be where it belongs – in the past.