Searching for a single view of citizens


Over the last decade, the public sector has made significant progress in digitalising public services and interactions with citizens and businesses. Despite its hugely disruptive implications, the coronavirus pandemic has served as an added accelerant to digital transformation and the public sector has responded admirably to remote working. Many public servants rely on face-to-face interactions to deliver vital services; this has by no means been easy, but it has provided an impetus for tech-driven change supporting changing working practices.

Despite much progress being made, legacy remains a significant inhibitor. Legacy IT is difficult to change and expensive to manage, maintain and support. Much budget is spent simply “keeping the lights on”. These challenges have fuelled a common misperception that public sector organisations lag behind commercial businesses when it comes to digital transformation. While true in some areas, the public sector is more digitally advanced than people often realise.

“I don’t think it would be fair to say the public sector has been either left behind or lags,” says Craig Mill, head of public sector, Europe, at Salesforce. “Many public sector organisations are doing a fantastic job, but there’s always more that needs to be done and legacy is a significant barrier. COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of change in enabling new ways of working, most of which are digitally enabled. But change will continue to be a constant, particularly when it comes to the expectations of citizens.

“The average citizen has a smartphone, they download new apps, see new websites and that impacts expectations. Then, because it can take quite a long time for the public sector to deploy new solutions, especially due to those legacy challenges, by the time they go live they’re no longer cutting edge and everything has moved on. To continually keep up with expectations, it’s really important to be able to speed up deployment. Start small and build from there.”

As an enabler of economic wellbeing and equality, grants are a vital government tool, already making up 15 per cent of all government spending and set to increase further due to the COVID response, Brexit and other manifesto commitments. In 2018, the Cabinet Office embarked on an ambitious programme to increase efficiencies and effectiveness in the way grants are administered across government. Through a series of pilots, it found technology was not being harnessed as well as it could be.

“The opportunity presented itself to consider what we could do once, within the Cabinet Office, to benefit all our grant-makers,” Ivana Gordon, head of government grants management function COVID-19 response at the Cabinet Office, told this year’s Salesforce Live UK and Ireland conference. “We looked at the grant life cycle and the processes involved. We wanted to improve the customer journey for citizens, businesses and the third sector, and have the right tools in place to be digital by default at the backend.”

The ambition is an applicant portal, with one highly functional channel for all grants, and a due diligence tool to check recipients and ensure money goes to the right places. The Cabinet Office required a platform that would give them agility and a single view over all grant administration. After considering options on the market, the Salesforce platform was selected and work began to beta-test an automated due-diligence tool, Spotlight. When COVID-19 struck earlier this year, and grants were placed at the heart of the economic response, the roll out of Spotlight was accelerated to support the administration of emergency funds.

“We wanted to build something at the centre with no barriers to accessing it across government or the public sector, which meant a cloud-based platform with the right security accreditations,” says Gordon. “COVID-19 has been the ultimate stress test on our new Spotlight tool but it has responded to the challenge. It’s checked billions of pounds of grants and thousands of applications, highlighting the risks and enabling grant managers to make informed data-driven decisions. We can’t wait to get started on the rest of our digital ambitions.”

The Salesforce platform delivers a single view of citizens, integrating across a range of technologies, including Salesforce Marketing Cloud for digital marketing automation and analytics and MuleSoft to connect everything up. Tableau’s data visualisations provide insights helping make data-driven decisions. Numerous accelerators are pre-built. Everything is highly configurable, which means customers don’t need armies of developers, thereby freeing up budgets and resources to focus on digital transformation, including legacy retirement; the more you transform the more costs decrease.

Salesforce supports digital transformation roadmaps in such a way that they avoid stereotypical issues, such as vendor lock-in, inflexibility, stagnation and eye-watering change costs. Its platform ensures the public sector can rapidly deploy solutions with minimum viable products, build on them through configuration, plug-in integrations, and augment and enhance through an internally owned roadmap. Crucially, Salesforce’s position as the world’s number-one customer relationship management (CRM) system, which runs through all its products, enables citizens to self-serve in new ways.

Salesforce’s position as the world’s number-one customer relationship management system, which runs through all its products, enables citizens to self-serve in new ways

“To self-serve, we need public services to know everything there is to know about a citizen, relevant to each use-case,” says Mill. “When you have a good CRM and case management, information collected can be used, with the appropriate permissions and governance, across all services. Through systems such as the Government Gateway, for example, the public sector has the ability to provide a more personalised service to every citizen, where the relevant information is shared with them to create a more positive and engaging experience.

“All these things come together when you have an extensible platform approach and this way we can truly transform the citizen experience. It then gives public sector employees the time to focus on and resolve difficult cases, and not deal with run-of-the-mill tasks, which can be undertaken by combinations of technology, artificial intelligence and analytics. A lot of public sector business is about sheer volume, and volume breeds complexity and cost. If we can simplify that, it costs less to serve and everybody benefits.”

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Q&A: the art of the possible

Craig Mill, Salesforce head of public sector in Europe

To succeed in digital transformation, public sector organisations must reimagine their operations and processes, says Craig Mill, Salesforce head of public sector in Europe

Legacy systems are clearly a barrier to digital transformation, but what else is holding the public sector back from maximising value?

It’s very difficult to reimagine how all of your current processes work if you don’t know what the art of the possible is. How do you go about reimagining how something works, or innovating a new process, if you don’t actually know what’s possible? I learn by looking at how other websites work and how the Salesforce platform is constantly innovating and evolving, creating new components, enablers and features. We can help our customers do that, showing demos from across the world from both public and private sectors. Security and compliance is built into the heart of our product set, making sure citizen information is held securely.

Why do public sector organisations find it more difficult to transform than some parts of the private sector?

The legacy anchor always comes to mind. Governance also plays a part. IT-led business change is notably different from the private sector where change belongs to the business.  This changes the dynamic and the priorities. IT organisations do great work, but the first priority isn’t always the business impact. Protecting previous investments and purity of architecture can take centre stage. Procurement can be tricky; it tends to be pretty prescriptive and can predetermine what an outcome or solution should look like, which can stifle innovation.

“There will be an ever-greater move towards cloud-based platforms that will help meet the pressures to speed up the retirement of legacy systems”

How does Salesforce help the public sector overcome these challenges and realise the art of the possible?

We help the customer understand what they could have. That’s why we love to interact and engage with our customers, showing them and helping them understand what’s possible.  We show how our platform is the right technology. The zeitgeist at the moment is around open source development, but my personal view is that it is simply building tomorrow’s legacy today. All that work is going to need a huge amount of support and maintenance, and it is going to require armies to do it. Components become obsolete, need to be upgraded and the costs continue to rise. It’s the elephant in the room. Going down a platform approach, fully in the cloud, is a much better way of transforming. It’s fast to deploy, configurable, flexible, agile and easy to connect to. We provide the platform to help get minimum-viable products deployed at pace, ultimately allowing public services to digitalise and transform more quickly and reduce costs.

How do you think public sector digital transformations will evolve in the coming years?

The one thing I am sure about is that there’s a lot of change coming. A successful digital transformation requires a great amount of ambition and that is a personal challenge for our customers. It’s a constantly moving target because government priorities change. If you think of some of the big public sector challenges right now – Brexit, the COVID-19 crisis, levelling up – they are all ambitious. When you have that amount of change, scarce resources have to be deployed effectively and building everything yourself is not the answer. There will be an ever-greater move towards cloud-based platforms that will help meet the pressures to speed up the retirement of legacy systems, to create new services and improve digital engagement.