The state of public sector digital strategy: Insights from experts

As the Public Sector matures their digital presence and engagement, Shirley Ayres, CEO of Aspire Knowledge interviewed Rob McCarthy, CEO of GOSS Interactive to uncover the insights they have learned from over 10 years working within the sector.

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Shirley: "What do you think are the big challenges for the public sector in terms of developing their digital strategies?"

Rob: "As we see it, some of the top challenges facing the public sector currently are resources and understanding digital ROI. Clearly resources is a broad category but can be refined into three crucial areas: financial, in-house skills and time.

Financial: It is crucial to understand the concept of 'invest to save'. Doing things digitally can reduce costs going forward. GOSS demonstrates this with existing clients by showing how investment into a digital strategy creates efficiencies.

In-house skills: Maintaining a strong digital team in-house is a difficult task as workers move on, need training and management, and require the systems to support them. The true cost of in-house solutions can quickly add up and be further inflated through the addition of temporary workforces. However, in-house skill can be easily used on supplier software that adopts open standards and gives free access to APIs.

Time: With the currently shrinking public sector workforce, we see directors and managers doing more with less. The diminishing time allowed for developing a digital strategy, project managing and delivering outputs is a cornerstone issue for many public sector bodies to resolve in order to reap the benefits of digital opportunities.

The private sector has led online user engagement and digital strategy to a point where citizens expect to be able to complete interactions online. Keeping pace with the public's digital expectations via engagement is the way to ensure your public sector organisation is investing in the future and will show a strong ROI.

ROI: The funding for digital projects was seen as a sure investment, we saw many public sector organisations given money to spend, but unfortunately, too often they didn't define what the out comes where expected to be and the long term impact of digital strategies was not given enough consideration. GOSS Interactive have invested in creating a team of Industry Experts and a methodology, called RESOLVE, to help councils understand analytics, define where a project is failing, scope what needs to changed, and calculate how much can be saved. As we implement new digital strategies for clients we report on the before and after effects in terms of the efficiencies gained. We drill down on X visitors and show they wanted to perform action Y; how many completed this action online, and those that needed to go another (more expensive) channel."

Shirley: "What is your RESOLVE solution and what makes it unique to the industry"

Rob: "We started to work on the innovation that became RESOLVE long before 2008. It is essentially a methodology that we devised to facilitate online efficiency through understanding current website effectiveness, driving channel shift and improved service provision. We have a team of practitioners recruited from our own experienced staff and from the Public Sector. The team is fully operational and engaged with numerous local authorities to help them deliver efficiency savings.

In fact we found that at the SOCITM Building Perfect Council Website event in June 2011 we were very busy offering advice and guidance, as we found there are numerous councils staff and service heads who had been tasked to deliver efficiencies but have not necessarily got all the knowledge to help them deliver it.

Shirley: "How do you think digital strategies can help with the challenge of public sector cuts and efficiency savings?"

Rob: "Shirley, our RESOLVE methodology addresses this very point. We have found that with effective, focused planning and having the best software in place, projects do deliver significant efficiencies. The team works with clients to help them analyse existing service delivery across all channels (web, contact centres and walk-in centres), identify where efficiency savings can be made and ensure end-to-end service deliver online. For some clients it's just the consultancy or training they need to help them get started, for others it could be a full project deployment including our open standards based CMS or using our free forms package.

Furthermore the Marketing Dashboard that comes as standard with GOSS iCM brings analytics insight directly to the content creators. By displaying analytics data in the Web Content Management system, content contributors are empowered to understand how their site is performing and to make changes to improve it's performance. It's that full ROI measurement that is a key USP for us and one that our clients really value."

Shirley: "What are the top three actions that you think the public sector should be doing right now to improve their digital engagement with citizens?"

Rob: "First, get the right services online. Remember, not all services can go online; it's about understanding which channel is right for the transaction. Where possible, online services should delivered end-to-end. This way website visitors can make a request and service staff can process and feedback to the citizen, all online in a streamlined fashion. This may require re-working some processes.

Second, measure everything! One of the key strengths with digital engagement is that everything can be measured, insight gained and improvements made, but tracking needs to go beyond simply reporting on the number of visitors or their time on site. Intelligent analytics can be used to measure user journeys and conversions to see how well your processes are performing.

Finally, drive traffic to your site with a channel shift strategy. This way you can engage more citizens online (the cheapest channel) so that they can self-serve (with your improved service delivery, and success metrics gained from analytics as mentioned above)."

Shirley: "What excites you most about potential digital innovations in the next year?"

Rob: "The rise of the smartphone. There are many millions of computers out there but that number is dwarfed by the number of smartphones. Currently 33% of UK adults have smartphones, a 57% increase in 2011. This provides many more opportunities for digital engagement with the public and this area has hit the tipping point in terms of ubiquity and public desire for this communication tool.

Second, the publication of data for open government and transparency has changed. The government used to feel they owned the data, analysed it themselves, and showed what they wanted to publish. Now raw data is being published so that people can mash it up with other data sources and make their own reports. Businesses are being born off the back of this information to show health, school, social care costs, performance and more. Data looks at the end user perspective now; instead of being shown information, people - the end user - have the power to create their own insights and publish them.

Third, the benefit to service users. With an effective website, contact centres don't get bottled up as much, since you can help many people online with LiveChat, clear navigation and accurate and useful information. Digital engagement has had a very positive impact on reducing the number of people who use the phone or walk-in centres. Now that more people are helped online, the phone and walk-in support can give more time to those that need it and to more complex situations."

Shirley: "In your view what is different today in terms of perceptions and styles of digital engagement from when you started in the business?"

Rob: "When GOSS first started, having a website was a new thing and its communication style was much more magazine based, a one way conversation. Now it is all about interactivity, channels, group chats, feedback, comments, and so on. Making solutions for different engagements is easier now. For example, mobile phone websites have made incredible leaps. They focus the most useful information and communications required by online visitors. "

Shirley: "Can you give three examples of solutions you have offered to the public sector?"

Rob:

  1. "Our online efficiency experts (RESOLVE) work in partnership with clients to assist them delivering improved service processes through their website
  2. We offer software to run fully transactional websites with the ability to deploy unlimited subsites.
  3. Our analytics experts, offer training as well as analysis and insights into how users are navigating and engaging with client websites."

Shirley: "What is a typical client need?"

Rob: "One of our clients, North Lanarkshire Council, selected us to help them with their digital engagement across their website, intranet and numerous sub-sites. They wanted a partner that could deliver an exceptional Content Management system to give them access to all the latest technology available."

Shirley: "How you engaged with the client?"

Rob: "As we do with all our clients, we adopted a partnership approach with North Lanarkshire, to ensure that they can maximize their online potential. It may sound clichéd, but by listening to our clients, we are able to provide a creative vision for digital engagement.

We regard good project management and formal quality assurance methodologies as important in ensuring continued success. We take pride in effectively delivering projects on time and within budget."

Shirley: "What service was provided?"

Rob: "We deployed a new, fully featured website for North Lanarkshire in 2009. They have gone on to add extra functionality and use the website as a core communication tool. They use GOSS iCM to manage the content and the solution is hosted at our secure data centre."

Shirley: "How your service improved/transformed the service"

Rob: "With careful planning the communications team at North Lanarkshire were able to respond to a huge surge in information needs during several weeks of severe weather. School children, staff, teachers, commuters, residents and the media all had different information needs. Web traffic spiked to 111,000 visitors on the first day of snow and over a 4 week period 1.1 million visitors came to the site. There was no loss of web service thanks to the robust hosting we had in place. Additional information was pushed out to Twitter. The North Lanarkshire website was reviewed independently in the SOCITM Better Connected 2011 report; the winter service provision provided by the North Lanarkshire was in the top 6% of UK local authorities and cited as an example of best practice. The website reviewer even commented that the winter service page was "brilliant"."

Posted by Pete Stevens, 2nd September 2011

Keynote

Rob McCarthy will be presenting a keynote at the Public Sector Digital Strategies Convention titled "The journey of social media; managing a business critical channel".