Digital technologies are revolutionising the public sector. New tools and processes are enhancing productivity and driving cost improvement to deliver quality personalised services for citizens.

Central government has adopted a ‘digital-by-default’ approach for more than a decade, using cloud technology and advances in mobile technology to migrate services such as taxes, employment and driver's licensing online.

These initiatives only scratch the surface of what is possible. Digitisation will allow the public sector to unlock the potential of the data it has access to. Data is like gold in the commercial world, where analytics inform strategy, marketing, sales, customer service, product development and operations. But the power of this information is not as widely recognised in the public sector.

The underutilisation of data

A combination of technological and cultural barriers has created this situation.

Local authorities provide a diverse range of services, many of which rely on legacy infrastructure from multiple vendors. In most cases, these systems are not interoperable, so the data they collect, and use, can be siloed. This makes it impossible for a council to create a complete view of a citizen or be able to share relevant details between agencies.

Compounding these shortcomings is a lack of in-house skills. If councils do not understand the potential of their data or lack awareness of the technologies that can extract value from their assets, then the potential of this information will remain unfulfilled.

The evergreen challenges of security and privacy have also been factors. Councils deal with highly sensitive and personal information and a data breach could lead to a loss of trust. This risk fosters a climate of conservatism that can stifle change, even if the benefits of transformation are recognised.

But this risk can be managed with adequate data protection. Cloud-based technologies offer the ability to manage information securely and provide new capabilities that improve service delivery. For example, the adoption of a cloud communications platform can lay the foundation for in-depth data analytics, with tools providing councils with greater insight and visibility into customer interactions.

As one of the largest metropolitan districts in the UK, Liverpool County Council has embarked on an ambitious digitisation programme that will use data to optimise and overhaul services and encourage a well designed self-service model for citizens.

Although Liverpool City Council’s strategy has been in place for some time, the pandemic has brought implementation forward. The adoption of 8x8’s cloud communication and contact centre solution has eased this shift, offering the council the flexibility and capability to react to changing circumstances.

The power of a cloud-based communication platform

When offices were forced to close due to social distancing measures, 8x8’s platform ensured customer service agents were able to work from any location and provide the same level of service to citizens who could no longer access face-to-face services.

Powerful analytics tools provide a single view of each customer and offer insights into how behaviours are changing. An online portal determines which communication channel (whether it is a live chat, a phone call, or social media) is being used to access which service and identify any point of customer disengagement.

Essentially, 8x8 has provided the council with a light CRM capability that unites all these touchpoints and ensures resources can be allocated effectively. Minimal wait times and tailored communications ensure no one slips through the cracks or receives incorrect information that results in missing out on vital support.

“For us, it’s about accessing information that helps us to better understand our customers, tailor their experiences, and make best use of the resources available,” says Alison Hughes, Assistant Director ICT Digital and Customer at Liverpool City Council.

“We wanted something that gave us an overall picture of the customer journey and our citizens' experience so we can improve it. We get better metrics from the 8x8 solution, which gives us visibility over service failures, or the ability to see where residents are not completing the full digital journey.”

Data-driven future

Achieving this level of data and operational visibility makes it far easier to share information with other agencies, something that has been of particular importance during the pandemic. Liverpool City Council has been able to work with community groups and support the NHS’s test and trace efforts. The result is a more seamless customer journey and experience for residents.

Such activities would have been hugely difficult before the implementation of the 8x8 platform. This newfound ability offers a glimpse of the potential of data to transform local government. As systems and processes are modernised, councils will be able to securely collect a greater quantity and variety of data that can deliver entirely new experiences. For example, Artificial intelligence can power chatbots that handle simple queries or drive automation, and Liverpool City Council’s website is already integrated with Amazon Alexa. Smart city applications will generate more usable data and all of this information can feed into cloud platforms that aggregate information rather than storing it away in silos.

“Communications have been seen as a utility and not transformational,” adds Alison. “Once you build on the analytics and understand what customers are doing, you can really transform [public] services.”

Any local authority wishing to follow suit should review their communications strategy and systems to see whether they have the analytical capabilities that cover the spectrum of data acquisition and storage, access and analytics that take full advantage of the digital transformation. They should also review whether they have the necessary organizational resources and structure to take action on the data and respond to changing customer demands and behaviour.

The potential for digital transformation is vast, but this should not come at any cost. Although the pandemic has encouraged Liverpool City Council to be less risk averse and more pragmatic in its approach to digitisation, it warns against oversights that could cause problems further down the line.

“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to how things were before now that we’ve seen the benefits of what a modern communications platform can do,” says Alison. “Historically the public sector has been poor at using data, but I think this is the time we’re going to seize the opportunity and use this to further improve services for everyone in Liverpool.”