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December 18, 2017
To innovate in public service, lets start with the outcomes – and skip the technology traps
By: Ger Daly

Ger Daly, Senior Managing Director for Accenture Defence and Public Safety, begins a three-part series of blogs on innovation in public service by explaining why the technology tools keep getting in the way.

In my day job helping, defence border and public safety agencies harness new technologies, my team and I spend a lot of time figuring out what’s coming next. And we’re doing this in a world where the pace of innovation and change can be mind-boggling: it’s estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up doing a job that hasn’t yet been invented.

Amid this headlong change, a key question is what kinds of innovations our clients should be looking to adopt. To work this out, we tend to keep half an eye on the present and one-and-a-half eyes on the future. Inevitably, this involves applying the latest enabling technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics, security and mobility as well as quantum computing and augmented reality.

Recently I was in an industry meeting where the discussion turned to these new, emerging technologies. And someone asked a question that brought me up short. “OK,” they said. “We’ve talked about blockchain, AI, advanced analytics and so on. So, which of these should we start with?”

Why did this question stop me in my tracks? Because the underlying premise was starting from the wrong end – by looking at the “how” and the choice of technology tool to start with, rather than with the “what”, the outcomes for governments, citizens and communities.

This set me thinking about the broader context of innovation for agencies across government. Indeed, for all public service agencies, there’s a terrific amount of distraction in this area, not least because of the blizzard of debate, coverage and sometimes hype around the latest tech.

All of this is magnified by the pace, scale and reach of the transformation we’re now seeing. In 2016 there were about 3.5 billion internet users worldwide, and it’s projected that by 2030 this figure will rise to 100 billion. But only 10% of these 100 billion users will be people. The rest will be smart machines and devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

So, what technologies will come to the fore in this new world? Blockchain is a clear case in point. In just a couple of years, it’s come from nowhere to be seen as the go-to future solution for anything that needs assured data integrity in a distributed environment. In a digital world, this will ultimately mean just about everything – positioning blockchain as the likeliest contender to act as the security backbone for all organisations operating in the New.

However, this type of macro-level statement doesn’t answer the basic question raised by every client in every sector: what does this technology actually mean for me? And policing, defence, and border services agencies are most certainly asking this question of us.

Yet this question – like the one posed in my meeting – is again approaching innovation from the wrong end. It’s pretty much impossible to work out how to adopt a tool like Blockchain just by looking at the technology itself and how it can be applied. Instead, what’s needed is an approach that starts with using data analytics to pinpoint where change will have the most important impact, and then working out how the New can enable new ways of working and collaborating that lead to better outcomes.

I believe that most worthwhile transformational change today will require most, if not all of the technologies listed above, working in concert. You wouldn’t cook a great meal with only one ingredient, right?

To my mind, this all underlines that there’s an important conversation to be had about how we perceive and think about innovation in public services. Even with a focus on outcomes rather than technology tools, successful innovation in public services increasingly needs something else: a multi-agency, multi-stakeholder approach that reflects the close connectivity and interdependence between the outcomes for different participants involved in delivering meaningful government services to the citizen.

This is a challenge that I’ll examine in my next post in this three-part series. Please stay tuned...

See this post on LinkedIn: To innovate in public service, let’s start with the outcomes – and skip the technology traps.

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