Accelerating Digitization in Government
- Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Canadians, regardless of demographic, prefer to access government services online.
- Barriers to accessing government services have always existed, creating frustration among citizens and putting them off engaging with their government.
- By collaborating with the private sector, government can gain key learnings on how to better provide online services that prioritize the citizen as a customer.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced citizens to access critical services online, increasing their expectations of the quality of government digitization. Government needs to reassess how to make these services easier to access for all demographics. If done right, citizens will develop a better opinion on engaging with their government.
Why did ServiceNow commission a survey on Canadian preferences for accessing government services and what were its key findings?
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across all organizations in Canada. Prior to the pandemic, Canadians have always held high standards for digital services as they use them every day in their personal lives—they order online, bank online, and make bookings online. Digitization is not a new thing in our personal lives. In terms of Canadians’ expectations of government delivering digital services, the confidence was low, but the pandemic has changed everything.
The opportunity is huge for government. When we made the shift to everybody working remotely, we could no longer go to a government agency or department physically to get things done; we had to access these services online and the government was forced to accelerate that change, becoming more in line with the expectations of Canadians.
“Government has a great opportunity to step up and demonstrate to citizens that it can deliver the same level of consumer-grade services citizens experience in their personal lives.”
There are a few key findings. If given the choice, two out of three Canadians prefer to access services digitally. This is prior to the pandemic so it is in line with where the government needs to go and with the expectations of Canadians. The second finding is that experiences matter. A great citizen experience has a positive impact on opinions, and opinions matter during election time. Government has a great opportunity to step up and demonstrate to citizens that it can deliver the same level of consumer-grade services citizens experience in their personal lives. Thirdly, building trust between citizens and public institutions has never been more important as we navigate the pandemic and plan for a successful recovery.
Just as a good customer experience can do wonders for a brand, a positive experience accessing government services has the power to build greater confidence between citizens and government. As a company that makes the world work better for people. ServiceNow thought it was very important to understand what citizens are going through and how this pandemic has changed the design of how the Canadian government engages with its citizens.
How can the government respond to this trend of accelerated digitization?
First of all, our data shows that Canadians have new expectations around the future of the public sector. The pandemic has made them more open to accessing government services digitally, and this is true for all generations, not just our younger generations.
“Expectations on the government to deliver consumer-grade experiences are higher now that people have seen a snapshot of this during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Overall, at least two out of three Canadians would prefer to access services digitally. As such, the government needs to continue to evolve its digital maturity and transformation as far as bringing government services online. If we do that, confidence becomes higher amongst our citizens. Our statistics show the majority of citizens prefer live chats and mobile-friendly options with consumer-grade experiences. This is an important part: consumer-grade experiences. We already experience this in our personal lives. Expectations on the government to deliver consumer-grade experiences are higher now that people have seen a snapshot of this during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the demand for digital experiences increasing across all generations, government has the opportunity to streamline its services to really take advantage of this digital age.
What are the current barriers for Canadians to access government services online?
For many Canadians, accessing services as a whole is challenging. We have different age groups and demographics, connectivity issues, and a whole bunch of things that play into the challenges Canadians face. In general, nearly half of the population relies on someone else to help them access services. Many Canadians have trouble accessing services online because the processes are complicated or they do not know where to go. Some of the challenges include just trying to contact the right people or getting the right piece of information. Sometimes, people cannot get through busy phone lines or were not able to find the right contact information they needed. Some people get bounced around different departments or have to follow up with multiple government departments to get an answer. There is a lot of opportunities to simplify things and for government to really understand what citizens are looking for. Government needs to figure out how to make it simple for citizens to find information and more importantly, have their problems solved quickly.
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What steps have to be taken and by who to enable the digitization of the government?
Government needs to simplify the services that they provide. We have different provinces and territories across the country and each one is developing its own strategy at each level of government. However, the pandemic has opened up an opportunity for us to think differently about some kind of master architecture around the services government provides. We need to figure out how a municipality or local government can work better with a province around a single strategy, so that some things are overarching and then some other services are set at a local level. The same applies to the federal government.
There are great partners in the private sector that can help government set a vision for its digitization strategy. Canada is small enough as a country to be more agile than other countries around the world. Canada should ensure that we are learning from the largest and most innovative countries while sidestepping the hurdles they have gone through to set up something that makes sense for the new digital economy.
What are some learnings that Canadian governments can take from the private sector in terms of better engaging with citizens?
One thing we cannot forget is that governments have unique challenges and silo processes. They were built on a foundation that is generations old, so unwinding that takes time and they have often struggled to keep pace with the private sector when it comes to digital innovation. It is not enough to simply take a legacy system and bring it online. Phase One of digital transformation was literally taking a legacy format and putting it online. These cloud migrations were cumbersome, and the result at the end of the day was not the experience that everyone had hoped for. Better digitization means reimagining how we do business, prioritizing user-centric design, embracing integrated learning, and taking an approach where we work backwards. The way governments work is they have an operation, and there are people that need access to information that sits inside that operation. We need to flip that around. We need to ask what citizens need, how they can access it, and how fast we need to work back and redesign that experience. If government can do that, citizens will be very excited to engage more with government and confidence will be high.
Who and what would you pitch to further the digitization of Canada’s government services?
It always starts from the top. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of Canadians to access the services they need online. This goes from connecting with government agencies to address specific questions, to managing COVID-19 vaccine appointments. The demand for digital services has never been higher. Citizens want a great experience and to be treated like a customer. If the government can do that, public opinion for that government to stay in office will be better. Digitization is one of those things that every citizen can put their hands on. It is something they can experience, think about, and talk about day-to-day. It becomes a table conversation during dinner and if government manages to be a part of that conversation, then it is creating a positive impact for the country.