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Four Technology Trends Reshaping Human Services Solutions
Fishermen off the southwest coast of India use mobile phones to call a hotline to report their catch before reaching shore. Using a simple load-balancing algorithm, the hotline operator ensures that a supply-demand balance is maintained in each of the villages that the fishermen serve, so that their customers get a wider selection and the fishermen get the best price for their catch.
What do human services agencies have in common with these fishermen? They too look to technology to transform how they work. According to Accenture’s Chief ScientistKishore S. Swaminathan, in an article originally published in the April 2012 issue of Policy & Practice,human services agencies should focus on four opportunity areas where the fish are swarming—and all else will follow.
As the global director of research for Accenture, Dr. Kishore Swaminathan defines Accenture's Technology Vision and helps set Accenture's technology and research agenda. He also directly heads Accenture's Systems Integration research located in Chicago (US), Silicon Valley, California (US), Sophia Antipolis (France) and Bangalore (India).
Born and raised in the 2,500-year old city of Madurai in Southern India, Swaminathan took an interest in science while studying, ironically, history. "I realized that the ideas of Archimedes and Pythagoras endure, but not the empire of Alexander," he recalls. "It made me want to focus on science to understand the world in a deep way, taking nothing for granted, but questioning everything."
At 18, he enrolled in the elite Indian Institute of Technology at Madras, where he received his Bachelor of Technology in aeronautical engineering, and then went on to earn his master's and Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "Even my doctoral dissertation was concerned with science," Swaminathan says. "I was interested in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, so I focused on how computers might be able to process scientific literature and discover scientific trends."
Although he originally intended to become a teacher, he accepted a position at Accenture's Center for Strategic Technology Research in Chicago in 1990 since "it was a new lab that was just getting started and I thought I'd be able to help define and shape the lab."
Over the years, Swaminathan has worked on more than a dozen research projects and has as many patents to his credit. His interests include document understanding, corporate knowledge management, computer-supported collaboration, sensor networks, data and process analytics, system architecture and software development. One of his projects in corporate knowledge management received the Computerworld Smithsonian award for the best application of IT in 2000.
Creativity and innovation are recurring themes in Swaminathan's role as the chief scientist of Accenture. "For any company, innovation comes from a systemic mind-set that embraces and nurtures creative ideas," he notes. "Creativity does not necessarily result in innovation, but there's no innovation without creativity."
As resource-strapped human services agencies face countercyclical demand, leaders are exploring emerging technology applications to improve efficiency and capacity. They know they must serve increasingly connected customers who expect immediate, convenient access. They recognize that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provided additional resources that, if deployed strategically, can enhance modernization. They know too that they must drive coordination and collaboration to truly integrate human services delivery.
Despite these imperatives, technology decisions in human services can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get bogged down in a swirl of concerns—from financing and infrastructure to security and compliance.
In planning an IT agenda, human services agencies should specifically focus on four opportunity areas:
Everything as a serviceIT has been a significant capital investment in human services as agencies have purchased and installed hardware, built, run and maintained systems, and staffed and trained IT professionals. This internally-focused IT paradigm is shifting to an external model where technology capabilities are consumed as services.
Mobility mattersSome human services agencies are reluctant to fully embrace mobile to connect with customers. This may be because there exists a pervasive myth that only wealthy people have access to premium technology. However, data indicates that, when it comes to mobile devices, the wealthiest are not necessarily the only or the best users of mobile technology
The data dilemmaThe combination of analytics and comprehensive data will transform the human services organization of the future. But what is the real barrier to this future state? It’s not the lack of analytics resources, but the fragmentation of data that is siloed technologically, organizationally and even by ownership.
The reality of real-timeThe immediacy of the technology tools that surround us have created an expectation—if not an obsession—for real-time insights and actions. But the reality of real-time is that it’s never any faster than the slowest process that supports it. So for human services agencies looking to operate in real-time, the first place to focus is on business process improvement.
April 5, 2012
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