The world has gone digital in just about every aspect of life, and the Federal Government is no exception. Today’s citizens expect a government that provides platforms and services that make all facets of government-citizen interaction easier and more efficient. Teresa Bozzelli, President of Sapient Government Services (SGS) is at the forefront of the drive to leave no citizen behind when it comes to accessibility of government, and looking to usher in an age of digital democracy where all citizens have access to the services they need, when they need it. Consulting sat down with her to talk about SGS’ efforts to help governments through technology improve relationships with its citizens.
Consulting: What are some of the big shifts making the biggest impact on government?
Bozzelli: Part of it starts with the citizens demanding a different experience. And we’ve seen that first with mobile. A few years ago the governments would say we want a mobile application, and we’d ask why. We wanted them to really think about the technology and innovation that mobile can bring, not for the sake of doing something different, but really using technology innovation as a component to move the mission connection to the citizen forward. So we’d push back a little bit, and say it’s not about the innovation of mobile, but it’s about innovative use of mobile as an integrated channel. The other innovation I’m hoping we get to is really creating a different engagement model with the digital citizen. Our community, the younger generation, expect to be served differently. It’s an opt-out model we deal with in the private sector and in government it’s opt-in, so we really need to see that shift. It isn’t necessarily a new technology innovation, but an innovative use of technology to change the engagement model from citizen to service.
Consulting: How has that changed from prior decades?
Bozzelli: It used to be that we’d say it’s government anytime, anywhere. But it still made the citizen have to be really well informed about what they needed. So if I lost my job and needed to get unemployment benefits, I had to know where to go. Or if I don’t have enough money to feed my family and I need healthcare, I had to know who to go to in government. The opt-out model would allow the government to say you came to me with this problem, here are other things you also need, and people could opt out. So the government needs to eliminate the boundaries of different systems in ways citizens expect. If you go on Amazon and I’m looking for pots and pans and then tomorrow on my Facebook page I’m going to see an advertisement for pots and pans, probably from Bed Bath & Beyond. That’s what our citizens expect, so that’s the innovation that technology needs to bring. It’s not new technology, it happens all the time in our everyday lives.
Consulting: How do citizens want the services to be different?
Bozzelli: In the private sector, take a clothing manufacturer for example, they can choose what consumer group they want to target. You can choose to just do children’s clothes, or teenager’s clothes. Government can’t do that—it’s required by law to serve everyone from toddler to geriatric. So the concept of multi-channel for government is extreme, so it cannot choose to go totally digital. So the expectation unfortunately for government is extremely complex from the citizens because it ranges from true digital natives to people who avoid digital like the plague. The government has to do all of those and everything in between—it’s no small task.
Consulting: So, where does it go from here?
Bozzelli: Over time, we who are digitally literate if not digital experts will be starting to take care of our parents and grandparents, so this is a time-limited challenge. But we also have accessibility; people with disabilities, the digital divide, and all those things are still extremely complicating and expensive in the government serving their mission. But for what we’re talking about with technology and innovation, what the citizen is now expecting is for the government to be at their beckon call digitally. So if I want to look up Bureau of Labor statistics data at three in the morning on my mobile device, it’s my call. And if I can’t get it, I’m going to say the government is not fulfilling its obligation to me.
Consulting: It sounds like a democratization of data is underway.
Bozzelli: When the data is so unstructured or unconnected it’s just chaos, so it’s a digital data democracy that is just not used, or is used by a very small number and not for common consumption. At that point it becomes an aristocracy approach because there are so few people who understand how that data can be used and we get a data power struggle, as opposed to if the government were to really meet the needs of the citizen to take this wealth of information and empower it to the masses. As long as it’s just a bunch of stuff there’s only a few people who can really use it and that can create more issues than it solves.