IT software and service company Equiniti discusses the importance of digitising businesses and government services.
There are two types of businesses today, digital and analogue. Broadly speaking, we consider a digital business to be one that has only ever existed in a world where the internet has been the dominant factor in communications and as such have not had to adapt to the new era but merely embrace it. Uber and Air BnB are the examples currently residing on everyone’s lips but the contrast between digital and analogue is best described by looking at the online shopping industry.
While all major supermarkets offer customers the ability to shop online and either have the goods delivered or picked up in store, they have had to adapt to the new world. Meanwhile Ocado was founded with a website, and latterly an app, as its only front of house. And while not completely responsible for all of the recent woes of the big four supermarkets – the rise of discount retailers has proven to be more disruptive – the contrast is nevertheless clear.
Becoming a digital company is about much more than having an app that sits over a traditional service, it’s about what’s behind it – technology, people, organisational design, leadership culture and an overriding focus on user experience.
One of the phrases currently being bandied about is ‘Uberisation’. Uber, and its accommodation soulmate, Air BnB, have a business model which borders on unique. In many respects it successfully relies on self-regulation, with technology as the medium through which the human emotions that denote customer satisfaction in the marketplace are expressed.
It is, however, hard to envisage any situation where the public sector will ‘Uberise’, mainly because epoch-defining companies evolve around the technology that sustains them – in this case GPS-equipped smart phones to meet a shortfall in the market, in much the same way as the original Uberisation, namely the massive expansion of the textile industry, met the need to own more clothes. Government exists only to meet the demands for things that we cannot do ourselves and therefore must do collectively. The market for these things is, by definition, limited.
The lessons that government can learn from Uber however are structural. Despite an increasing emphasis on placing services online, with the ’16 by 16’ strategy, government in Northern Ireland still retains a hierarchical, administration-focussed, system which will increasingly sit at odds in a digital world.
Transformation is possible however. Nike moved from a structure which incorporated separate digital initiatives to a fully digitised business. Internal processes, such as product design, went online and a whole new division was created to ensure that products would also be designed with digital processes and the customer experience in mind.
Government in New Zealand has pioneered this model in the public sector. In their ‘Digital by Default’ method of service provision, all internal processes are designed with the customer at the centre. Products are designed with the up-to-the-minute expectations of New Zealanders in mind, with the key expectation being that government services are accessed through as few touchpoints as possible.
It stands to reason the government in Northern Ireland should do the same, lest digitisation end up being perceived as a box ticking exercise.
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