Obama, Public Services and IT.
July 24, 2015
Earlier this week one of my favourite talk show hosts and satirists – Jon Stewart - interviewed the president of the United States for the last time on the Daily Show.
With both leaving their respective roles in the near future, the interview had a refreshing honesty to it. Jon – a stalwart anti-conservative - asked some tough questions and Obama, less concerned now with votes than securing an honest appraisal of his legacy, was remarkably candid in his reflection on both successes and failures during his time as president.
They talked about climate change, the Iran deal, the media, and even Donald Trump, but one thing that stood out in particular was Obama's view on the changing role and nature of government.
The Business Aims:
Public Sector services aim to improve people’s lives, whether through the provision of fire-fighting services, education, or healthcare. While these are generally non-profit endeavours they can be measured by much the same metrics as any private sector service: quality, speed, and availability of service against cost.
Improving these is a continuous effort that requires relentlessly striving for greater efficiency on one side while on the other maintaining a tight feedback loop with citizens and the agility to innovate.
Public Sector services are under more pressure than ever before.
Public Sector services are under more pressure than ever before. To take Obama’s example of Veterans Affairs: with millions of people already being served, the service has expanded: “We allowed [veterans] with symptoms of Agent Orange, for the first time, to be able to make claims- that added a couple of hundred thousand people” as well as received a host of new claimants returning from two wars. “We now have about 2.7 million more veterans seeking services.”
“How can Government be Agile?”
These new pressures are met with the challenges of “a big freaky bureaucracy” and technologically long-out-of-date processes. “When we had that problem with waiting lists, folks were still taking appointments down on paper. When you’ve got millions of people who are needing services, it just doesn’t work.”
As the title suggests, it’s better IT.
The new US Digital Service involves “Guys in T-shirts” tackling basic issues: “How do we make an SBA loan easier to get? How to make this agency more customer-friendly? How do we make sure that people can go to one website instead of sixteen to find the information they need?” in much the same way as our own Government Digital Services (GDS) has been revamping services in the Exemplar programme.
By rotating in specialist consultant resources the USDS has brought in much needed Agile design and development expertise to entirely rethink how these services are delivered.
Starting with user needs, designing the simplest, most elegant solution, and then working back to integrate it with legacy systems several decades old is no mean feat.
Agile projects will begin to demonstrate real results in service quality, performance, and cost efficiency
Once the right elements take root however, successful Agile projects will begin to demonstrate real results in service quality, performance, and cost efficiency much as they have in our own Exemplar programme. Wider cultural transformation then starts to take place throughout departments and the public sector –from the “guys in T-shirts” to policy makers- can become less frustrated and more innovative.