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Why digital technologies are as much about people as human services is

Accenture’s Mark Jennings discusses human services and the 2016 Accenture Technology Vision.

This year’s theme could not be more suited to the human services business, could it?

That’s right. The theme of this year’s Technology Vision is “people first,” which is obviously a theme that is very relevant to the human services business.

After all, this industry is all about prioritising people and helping them as far as possible. I think the themes come together to help human services agencies deliver policies in a way that was never before possible. To measure and achieve outcomes that were not possible before.

The trend around intelligent automation seems like something out of science fiction. How close are human services agencies to working alongside machines?

Intelligent automation includes a number of ways of working.

It stretches from robotic process automation—that’s machines being coworkers with individuals—right through to how much of transactional processing and casework can be automated through no-touch processing. This is where you have full end-to-end processing of transactions without human interventions, freeing up the humans, not to be replaced, but to do more value-added work.

What we have seen is in countries that have high levels of no-touch processing, the benefits are really recognised. In Australia, which is most advanced in this area, 96 percent of respondents to a recent Accenture survey said they felt that end-to-end processing was extremely beneficial to the efficiency of an organisation.

Tomorrow’s workforce will look very different. How will human services agencies be impacted by changing ways of working?

The liquid workforce is an extremely important concept for public employment services, as well as for social security and pensions. These agencies must track people throughout their lifetime and different work types.

In an era when it’s expected that the average person entering the workforce now will have 20 or so jobs in his or her lifetime, it’s very important that employment services are able to respond to this flexibility. They must remove the old concepts of training at the start of a career and then a single job for a lifetime.

The Singapore Work Development Agency has created a national credentialing system to allow for interventions throughout someone’s working life, to track their training, their education and their employment in a constructive way.

What does the platform economy mean in the human services environment?

This is all about the interconnectedness between agencies. It’s about platforms for innovation. It’s about platforms for data sharing. And it’s about creating the ecosystem between agencies.

A great example of a platform economy is the ability for pensions data to follow people wherever they go. This can be from job to job if it is occupational pensions. It can also be across borders if a person is moving from country to country as people are much more likely to do these days.

Human services agencies are so mission steady. Why does predictable disruption even apply to them?

It’s a natural reaction to question how predictable disruption is related to human services. Agencies’ roles are not going to change greatly over the coming years. But I would argue that actually there are several areas where the whole business could be disrupted.

Universal Credit policy in the United Kingdom is a great example of disruption in action in the human services agency. This policy allows for dynamic adjustment, month on month, of individuals’ and families’ benefits based on the salaries that they receive in that month per real-time tax agency data.

This is having a transformative effect on getting people back into work. And once they are at work, it is helping them to earn more. A recent Department for Work and Pensions survey found that 113 people on Universal Credit would find work for every 100 who would have found work on the previous regime. The difference may seem small, but it’s significant, and will grow over time.

Can human services agencies move forward with digital service delivery without digital trust?

No. Digital relies on opening up data, on opening up services. That is only possible where there is trust between the individuals concerned and government that is providing those services. There are many cases where individuals have been reluctant to provide data, understandably so.

Germany provides a great example of this. The whole culture is against data sharing, certainly unnecessary data sharing. And as such, the government is finding ways to allow people to control their own data, to manage their own data and select how it’s used and for what services. This is essential to gaining the trust of the citizens.

"Digital relies on opening up data and services. That is only possible where there is trust between the individuals concerned and government."