Citizen Experience in the Public Sector: Breaking Down the Silos

By Rami Haffar

The complexity of the citizen experience:

Transformation of the public sector is often perceived as a challenge. By its very nature, it is often a complex, outdated, bureaucratic set of rules and regulations, many of which will have been in place for decades, carried out by people who have been in the roles for decades. At least, that is the perception. Regardless of how large a challenge it is, in expectation or reality, it is still a challenge to be addressed.

Departments often seem to run independently, requiring citizens to repeat the same information at every front desk to access different services. The idea of a one-stop-shop and e-service has come to be a growing standard, however, with connected services requiring only a login or ID check to access everything the citizen requires.

But until that does indeed become the norm, the citizen experience will still need optimization, and to do that, we need to start by understanding it. A typical citizen journey would entail the involvement of multiple entities and not limited to one entity. Hence, we need to look at the full journey by assessing the front-end stages and back-end processes, systems, and stakeholders cross-cutting across entities. Accordingly, we start identifying the data, system, process, stakeholders’ internal and external silos that contribute to friction and frustrations in the citizen journey.

Global Statistics

A recent survey found that only one-third of citizens around the globe deem national (33%) and local government (36%) to be trustworthy. Furthermore, more than 4 in 10 citizens were against the sharing of data, both within the government and with private sector companies. Almost three-quarters (72%) were opposed to the government selling their personal data to a private sector company even if it’s to raise money that can fund better public services or tax cuts. 

Additionally, globally, almost one-third of citizens (32%) rank more use of digital technologies in the provision of public services as one of the top three priorities for governments to improve the quality of services.

However, this reflects more on the public trust in the government than trust in technology by itself. The same survey showed that trust in national government ranged from 63% in India and 46% in Australia; 29% in France, 27% in the UK, and 26% in the US; to just 19% in South Africa and 18% in Mexico.

Citizens themselves have a strong appetite for greater engagement with their public services through technology, and with an elevation in customer expectations, the public sector is increasingly investing in bridging the experience gap by investing in the customer and employee experience. Digitally enabled citizen experiences will become the norm by 2023, and this is shown in the levels of investment in CX and DT. Even as early as 2019, the public sector was serious about customer experience. Investment has doubled since then, largely – you could argue – brought on by the necessity of a pandemic restricting in-person access but dramatically increasing demand.

Nevertheless, this is being reflected by establishing dedicated customer experience departments, investment in customer experience analytics technology, adoption of innovation and design thinking methodologies, investment in digital and self-service channels. However, the complexity of the citizen’s journey and the respective silos are major obstacles limiting the pace of the citizen experience transformation.

The GCC Region

The GCC accounts for three of the top four leading nations in the adoption of online services. KSA is second overall with an average of 15.5 digital government services used in the past years with only India at 17.0 scoring higher. UAE came in third overall at 14.4 and Qatar at 13.2. This is supported by strong adoption within society. Once again, Saudi Arabia leads the GCC (and third overall, after Bangladesh at 78% and India at 75%) at 70%, the UAE seventh overall at 61%, and Qatar 12th overall at 53%. All three countries are firmly above the global average of 47%.

Citizen satisfaction follows this trend, too, with both UAE and KSA ranking in the top quintile while Qatar is in line with the average for developing countries. Drilling down further, the results suggest a significant split in satisfaction based on age. Generally, 70% of GCC respondents aged 60+ believe digital government services met their needs but the figures for digital native younger generations, typically more demanding of technology and with different needs to the older generation, reveal that only 27% say all of their needs are met.

This is a significant statistic because the population of the GCC is generally quite young. In 2020, General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) showed that 66% of the Saudi population was under 35 – and this is mirrored across the region. High adoption of digital services can be assumed to be greater in this demographic, but tailoring services to this age range is a very different proposition from catering to those in the older generations. Differing needs, expectations (both now and in the future), and a completely different lifestyle are all factors. Appealing to polar opposite demographics is a difficult task and a challenge faced by the public sector all around the world.

The Approach:

To overcome those challenges, we have developed the below enabling framework:

It is clear that this is a period of incredible digital transformation. The best preparation is to be ready for constant change. Investments in customer experience and digital transformation can be updated, expanded, and built upon to create a high-quality and trusted digital service. However, demand is only going to increase. Being caught off guard again will be even more costly than implementing wholesale change across an entire sector. It must address a pressing need, and there needs to be a change in mindset as well as infrastructure. Without that, implementing change will not succeed.

About the author:

Rami Haffar is a Principal at the New Metrics’ Dubai office leading the XM technology practice.