Front door to foundations: redesigning digital citizen experiences

From improving public access for the disabled to helping Brits abroad get instant help, it is time for the public sector to embrace transparent, holistic processes with staff and users at their heart
London Bridge From Above, London, England

Those with accessibility needs can often feel at the back of the queue when it comes to using public services. A simple interaction with providers may involve long call times or difficult journeys. And often, vulnerable citizens may have to wait until a carer or member of the family is around to help. So, when a service that supports 10,000 vulnerable people in South Australia talked of taking a “risk” when rebuilding its accessibility offering, it would be reasonable to assume there were significant challenges. 

Instead, Joe Young, director of service reform at South Australia Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI) and his team sought to create one “source of truth” across AU$300m worth of services, a single digital platform where everything users might ever need – whether they are clients, carers or NGO service providers – was accessible in one place. Need a wheelchair ramp, a carer’s grant, or a visit from occupational health? The new reimagined system enables all parties to tackle each issue on one platform at the same time. This not only means fewer forms and shorter call waiting times but also more time for carers to respond to urgent needs rather than paper chase or send endless updates to clients.

The DCSI also deployed Salesforce’s Community Cloud to launch – an online community where people with disabilities publicly rate and review service providers – meaning every scrap of data or user feedback provides a constant feedback loop, delivering useful improvements to create the front door services users want. 

This overhaul paid back dividends. Payments processed by the DCSI nearly doubled and processing times shrunk “astonishingly” from six weeks to less than three days, says Young, all while administration staff numbers remained static. Todd Williams, executive manager at Cara, a provider delivering complex, 24-hour disability support in 77 locations in Australia, praised the new transparency. “We can see what we’re contracted to provide, right down to which support workers, and on what days and where.” 

The new shift also did the hardest job in government – breaking down multi-agency silos, which juggle people through one department to another, meaning true needs get lost between cracks, says Simon Collinson, head of UK public sector at Salesforce. “The UK government doesn’t want another product vendor, what it wants is an innovation partner for change. One that links front office experiences, middle office processing and back office data seamlessly. Government has an issue with not connecting front experiences with the back office.”

Improving services and retaining staff

Faced with economic uncertainty and having to deliver results for a government which faces an election in the next two years, the UK public sector needs affordable solutions that solve crises without breaking the stride of hard-working staff. 

This extra pressure also means the UK public sector faces a talent retention crisis – with around 5.2% of staff leaving or switching departments during the period between March 2021 and March 2022 – something which directly impacts end users. The key to keeping together the UK’s “Rolls-Royce civil service” is giving them the right tools and data, which allows them to make an impact and deliver change effectively, says Collinson. 

We know it’s hard for departments to move quickly and adopt new technologies

To do this, Salesforce “t-shirt sizes” its solutions to showcase both the experience and the likely delivery costs and timescales. This makes the change real to users, says Collinson. “We know it’s hard for departments to move quickly and adopt new technologies. They want to try before they buy, not just have a PowerPoint about how it might look. We also bring global Salesforce case studies – from the US, EMEA and Australia – and say ‘here’s a big city example; here’s a tiny village example.’” Examples of how commercial entities engage in digital transformation can help too. 

The General Service Administration in the US wanted to create a change that instantly improved daily tasks for staff and its users. Salesforce helped them create an entire app store that offered staff across all departments a common set of apps that unified correspondence and contact management. This also allowed the government to track usage and show the data each interaction produced, as well as the depth to which each app was used. This transparent, flexible user experience kept the end customer in mind throughout, whilst also providing an essential feedback loop.

Balancing digital and human experience

Recent Salesforce research into global trends and attitudes impacting citizen and government interactions found that, while citizens are open to digital services, for more complex issues they tend to want to be able to speak to someone too.

“It is fine to be digital,” says Collinson. “But when things go wrong, people want to know who they can turn to and where they are in the process. There is a lot of worry around ‘will granny be able to understand this?’. However, through relentless research, we see that older citizens are very IT-engaged, so long as services are easy to use and consistent, and there is a person they can speak to when things go wrong.” 

Contact centres can drive down needless engagement by allowing simple tasks to be done by AI, and also allow staff to deal with complex and difficult problems. This not only helps the public sector retain staff, but also provides a better service for users. A good example of this is a contact hub that Salesforce created alongside the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). 

This universal platform, operational in 200 consular regions, helps British nationals tackle any issue they may face abroad, from lost passports to kidnapping or the sudden death of a relative. By working closely with the staff on the ground, rather than simply prescribing technology, Salesforce and FCDO got the new portal up and running within three months. Critically, says Collinson, this portal can be flexed up or down to suit needs, whilst also monitoring data and offering transparent progress reports for staff of all agencies so they can instantly understand complicated processes. 

Providing flexibility in times of crisis 

In 2018, the Cabinet Office embarked on an ambitious programme to create a platform that would give them agility and a single view of grant assessments. Ivana Gordon, head of government grants management function response at the Cabinet Office says: “We wanted to build something at the centre with no barriers to access across government or the public sector, which meant a cloud-based platform with the right security accreditations.” 

Spotlight was the outcome – a due diligence tool to check recipients and ensure money goes to the right places, marrying everything from HMRC and Experian checks to open sources and criminal records. However, when Covid-19 struck barely a year later, Spotlight switched from being a useful admin tool to being placed at the heart of the economic response. The delivery of billions of pounds of grants became pivotal to keeping the country going, sifting through fraudulent claims whilst providing immediate data to back-end offices.

We create things that can be small or large applications, that are easy to spin up and spin down as needed

This flexibility is key to maximising value while meeting changing user demands, says Collinson. “We create things that can be small or large applications, that are easy to spin up and spin down as needed. Spotlight started as a stop check, then – with grants increasing – we needed rapid platforms to solve an issue that also spotted fraudsters applying for grants.” 

Some 55,000 civil servants log into and trust a Salesforce platform of some description across police forces, schools, hospitals and admin offices. This adaptability while meeting complex commercial and technological needs enables public services to embrace transformative change, Collinson explains. “[Public service organisations say] ‘That was easy, what else can we do with this? How far can we go? Can we solve the other problems we have the same way?’ That’s the best praise we can have.”

Q&A: How a digital police station is transforming victim journeys

Former police chief inspector Andy Doran joined the force in 2006. However, he left Lancashire Constabulary for Salesforce in 2021 in a bid to transform the way policing and citizens interact

Female Traffic Police Officer Recording Details Of Road Traffic Accident On Mobile Phone

Q: What issues did police forces have keeping victims updated when you left the police? 

A: Policing is facing a difficult time in terms of public trust and confidence, but it is essential to recognise the vast majority of dedicated officers and staff who go to work every day and put others first. However, their time is often taken up with demands that the public would not necessarily expect the police to deal with, and this has a profound impact on their ability to keep victims updated. From my experience, this results in repeated calls on 101 and 999 from victims and members of the public asking for an update. Lack of updates also drives increased complaints and victim and witness attrition. Keeping victims updated is essential to building trust and confidence in our police service.

Q: What is wrong with the way police record crimes?

A: The National Crime Recording Standards set out how policing must record crime, so it is less about what is wrong with the way it is recorded and more about how traditional policing technology and thinking focuses on the crime recording process as the golden thread. Often unintentionally, this shifts the raison d’être to ticking a compliance box but missing the point. Victims should always be at the centre of the investigation and, whilst crime recording is essential to legitimacy, it should never be at the expense of putting victims first.

Q: How does a digital police station improve this process? 

A: A digital police station adds the requisite variety to meet the needs of the public. Whilst not everybody will wish to engage in a digital-first way, a digital police station introduces self-service, which is the missing link to effective channel management in policing. Whilst policing has opened up new digital channels to support the public, they have become digital letterboxes rather than a way for the public to get instant answers to predictable common questions. Salesforce is working with leading UK police forces on delivering personalised and automated citizen experiences, including a citizen portal where victims can log in and get updates on their crime while speaking with the officer on their case. This provides a superior user experience, reduces staff hindrance stressors and provides a more cost-effective service delivery model.

Q: Why hasn’t this process been made smoother before now? 

A: We keep throwing staff at the issue and becoming really efficient at simply doing the wrong thing, faster. Throughout policing, we have people acting as system integrators because the incumbent point-to-point applications often fail to communicate with each other. This means that officers and police staff have to double and triple check key data between systems. Technology integration is often seen as a nice-to-have and not thought about as a strategic asset. This afterthought perpetuates the need for more back office teams who manually enter data rather than use their knowledge and experience to add value.

Q: What issues have legacy technology caused in this process? 

A: I think it is less about apportioning blame to legacy technology and more about how policing buys technology. Traditionally, policing buys technology, often on premise, to fix a specific problem. As such, you end up with technical debt and spending more time keeping the lights on than innovating and making it easier for officers and staff to provide outstanding services to communities. Whilst the unit cost of these systems often appears more cost-effective, the proof is in the total cost of ownership and return on investment. From experience, this is often lacking. Moving to software- and platform-as-a-service enables IT teams to focus less on patching and maintenance and more on driving the changes that will make a difference to officers and staff, who in turn can provide a better service to the public.

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