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Human services technology: Today’s new digital consumers

Embracing the future of digitally driven human services.


The explosion of human services technology is changing how services are delivered. Digital is the latest force in this revolution. Digitally delivered services will play an increasing role in meeting the needs of people who depend on the social safety net.

Because some digital services are consumer-driven and interactive, the authentic voices of digitally enabled health and human service consumers are starting to be heard without muffling their stories or minimizing their challenges.

The market penetration of the smartphone among disadvantaged populations is high. Visit a human service agency’s waiting room. Consumers are accessing information, listening to music and connecting with friends through their various devices while they wait.

But when it comes to service delivery, is the human service community as digital as its consumers?

This article written by Howard H. Hendrick, director of Human Services Business Strategy at Accenture, originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Policy & Practice.


Digitalization is the systematic strategic investment in and deployment of applications for analytics, mobile devices, cloud, social media and virtual networks using the wireless convergence of video and data to dramatically enhance the speed and quality of outcomes.

The rise of digital is a tremendous force of change across industries. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2014 explores why every organization is a digital organization and why it is more important than ever for organizations to embrace digital, to become digital disruptors themselves, to transform how they work, serve, and ultimately, win.


As digital becomes more pervasive in human services delivery and human services technology, it will drive change in three important areas:

  1. New roles. In 2014, no state or local health or human services agency, public or private, employs a chief digital officer (CDO). By 2018, many will seriously consider it. Wireless hot spots, smarter dashboards, and client-enabled portals are now accessible through smartphones. The capacity for data solutions with more granularity and scalability is greater than ever. Maximizing the value of digital capacity will be the emerging role of the CDO. The digital capacity to make data actionable—by staff and human services consumers—means that actionable insights will be technologically led through smartly developed prototypes engineered by the new CDO.

  1. Business processes. With the cost of digital delivery dropping, the focus will be on reducing and simplifying processes so that consumers are empowered to be as technologically self-sufficient as they are in other areas of their lives. Building a digitally empowered human services system helps vulnerable individuals and families help themselves.

  2. Opportunities. Digital affords so many opportunities for today’s human services consumers to grow their human capital in accessible, personalized ways—many of which give consumers a voice they never had. These possibilities remove barriers to access and availability. What’s more, the cost of service drops when it is delivered through existing infrastructures. Services then become available to help families in need in ways that fit their lives.


Digitalization means that change is likely to be technology led, not just technology enabled. How should future-thinking health and human services leaders facilitate these changes? First, embrace the reality, and make the necessary investments. Creating a mature data environment is a starting point—and each organization is at a different maturity level.

Digital is already an intrinsic part of the lives of many people served by human service organizations. As Accenture’s Technology Vision 2014 explains, the digitally disrupted are finding exciting ways to control their digital destinies and become digital disruptors. Human service agencies can join other digital pioneers, by creatively using digital channels and tools to help those in need with new human services technology.