Does my government really know me?
Do you sometimes get the impression that your government has no idea who you are unless you’re voting or sending in your tax return?
Each time you approach a public service organization for the first time, you’re obliged to fill in your name, address, age, date of birth, social security number, place of birth, passport number and so on, and so on. You may feel like a proud citizen of your country, but that same country acts as if it doesn’t remember you at all!
Contrast that experience with, say, ordering a pizza online. My local delivery company knows that my preferred order is a ‘quattro stagioni’ with salad and garlic bread – even before I ask for it. I can click to re-order my favorite, or choose something new, and within a second the order has been paid for and is being processed. So, why can’t my government recall my history and my circumstances and, based on that profile, pre-fill my data online and suggest some options for a better, more proactive service?
Single version of the truth
This really comes to the fore when I need something new. If, for example, I’m eligible for unemployment benefit or I apply for permission to renovate my house, I have to submit a ton of data and the onus is on me to look after my records, maintain multiple passwords and make sure different government agencies are updated. It’s hard work for me, inefficient for government, and increasingly anachronistic in this digital era.
So, what’s the answer – and is it achievable for everyday government? Holding one ‘single version of the truth’ about each citizen requires digital transformation enabled by the latest technologies such as cloud, big data, automation and machine learning. Yet that is precisely what is now available to governments. It creates major opportunities to improve public services while increasing governments’ cost-efficiency and productivity. What’s more, these digital technologies are essential for governments to keep up with what my chosen pizza delivery company, or travel agent, or bank, or supermarket can achieve.
Crucially, it also requires that each citizen has a proper digital ID that goes beyond a social security or case number. Many countries already have compulsory ID cards. Others (such as the UK and Australia) rely on driving licenses or insurance cards for ID. Many countries have defined new digital IDs by creating ‘digital mailboxes’ where citizens can register to receive a particular set of government services. Yet none of these go far enough or are seamless enough to achieve the kind of joined-up and responsive services we’re talking about.
In the private sector, digital IDs work based on the customer’s consent (either explicit or implied) to share their ID and their data with the provider because they know they will benefit from better and faster services. The more of our data we share, the better services and the more advantages we receive. In the private sector, ‘unicorn businesses’ (highly successful digital disruptors) deliver eye-catching, tailor-made services to individual customers just based on algorithms.
When it comes to public services, there’s simply no way these can be optimized if digital IDs and the sharing of data related to those IDs are not properly established. This requires all agencies to understand exactly what data they hold, retain ownership of it even when third parties are delivering digital services, and be willing and able to share that data with other agencies.
Blockchain could well be part of the answer, with a kind of ‘ID VAULT’ that uses Blockchain to secure a citizen’s status and deploy APIs to third parties to build citizen services. With the right data and connections in place, algorithms will do the rest (just look at the unicorns).
Today, implementing fully effective digital citizen IDs – together with data-sharing security, governance and capabilities – must all be priorities for governments. Without them, public services will always be held back by fragmented, out-of-date systems who do not seem to know their citizens.