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Putting trust at the heart of public services – POLITICO

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Simon Collinson, Head of UK Public Sector at Salesforce

Digitalization and personalization are key aspects of our decade. Crucial tools for commercial sectors, citizens now expect government services to take them on board. 

“Customers’ expectations of public services are influenced by their experience with the commercial sector,” says Simon Collinson, Head of Public Sector at cloud-based software company Salesforce. According to Collinson, research shows that 73 percent of customers expect companies to understand their individual needs.

Salesforce put this at the center of its strategy when developing digital public services such as refuse collection in Guildford Borough Council, England and COVID-19 vaccinations in the Irish Health Services Executive. The same expertise in providing digitalization of services in sectors such as retail and media also supports the delivery of efficient citizen services.

But what are the unique challenges facing governments trying to bring their services into a digital world? Crucially, how can citizens be at ease with providing personal data to companies and government agencies? POLITICO Studio delves into these questions below with Collinson.

Click here to read our first interview in this series, on reimagining the future of public services.

POLITICO Studio: Salesforce recently released research looking at how customers’ expectations have changed since the pandemic. What were the main findings?

Simon Collinson: Our latest State of the Connected Customer report shows that the digital acceleration that occurred during the pandemic has transformed how customers engage with businesses and service providers. Insights from nearly 17,000 consumers and business buyers worldwide, tell us that the past two years have seen the majority (68 percent) of customers purchase products in new ways, and the customer experience is now digital-first.

The report also shows how digitalization has sparked massive demand for personalization of services — 73 percent of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and experiences. We’ve seen in the commercial sector that customers are prepared to share data and insight into their lives when it leads to a better and more personalized consumer experience.

The speed at which the world is changing has put trust at the heart of how people wish to engage with businesses and service providers. 88 percent of customers believe trust becomes more important in times of change.

PS: In your role as head of Salesforce’s UK public-sector business, have you seen a similar change in citizens’ expectations of public-service provision?

SC: Absolutely. We’ve moved into a digital-first world where citizens need to be served from anywhere. They expect the same level of speed, convenience, transparency and personalization mirroring that they experience in the commercial sector.

Over the past 18 months, public organizations have created completely new ways to deliver services and connect with citizens.

Increasingly, public-sector workers want the ability to connect, access records and deliver, without silos.

Take, for example, our work with the Irish health service to launch its vaccination process online using Salesforce. This provided a consistent set of experiences through a single channel for the people in Ireland looking to sign up for vaccinations. Over the 20-month period, we expanded the functionality of the program as people returned for multiple jabs.

Another example is the UK’s tax department HMRC. At the height of the pandemic, our Slack platform helped enable 2,000 people from across 60 teams to handle a huge surge in applications from businesses and citizens for government financial support. Rather than having to build a system from scratch or change their operating model, from their homes colleagues were able to collaborate across departments, and identify and resolve issues quickly.

More traditional approaches would have struggled to provide the pace and agility that this program required.

PS: What are the risks for public-sector organizations that fail to adapt?

SC: Losing trust. Currently, according to our latest Connected Government Report, only 16 percent of those surveyed globally believe that their governments has successfully used technology to improve their experiences. Public trust in government is driven as much by the integrity, fairness and openness of institutions as it is their responsiveness and reliability in delivering public services and anticipating new citizen needs.

Our Global Trust imperative report, commissioned by Salesforce and published by Boston Consulting Group, shows that governments which provide excellent digital experiences, and communicate the benefits of sharing data, report greater levels of trust among their citizens.

For organizations that fail to adapt, the risk isn’t just that they’re seen as not moving with the times. People raise questions about that organization’s competence and maturity. I’ve done it myself when engaging with a private-sector business.

That makes everything else harder. There is a virtuous circle between great experiences driving trust, and trust driving great outcomes. There can be a negative circle too: poor experiences break trust and policy outcomes.

PS: Do you think public-sector organizations are currently doing enough to adapt to these expectations? What are the main challenges governments are facing in trying to adapt?

SC: We know public-sector organizations are doing a lot. And at Salesforce, our Government Digital Service has given them a template as to how to adapt.

Like every sector however, governments are under pressure to reduce costs and increase efficiency. All this points to a greater need for automation, cloud technology and digital engagement.

Quite often, the people who own the customer experience are separated from IT, the teams who own the front-end systems, marketing and those who own the data. These individual departments are not as connected as they need to be. In contrast, if you go to any modern-day consumer organization, they have a digital customer engagement team whose job it is to join these silos and provide a connected customer experience.

You’d probably expect someone like me, coming from a technology company, to say that the solution is all about tech, but it’s not, it is about operating models; internal organization, because technology alone can’t transform government organizations. They’ve got to have clarity of mission. And you’ve got to have an organizational model that allows them to deliver on that. That’s why we position ourselves as an innovation partner, not a technology partner.

PS: You’re asking public-sector providers to trust Salesforce with citizen data. Why should they?

SC: At Salesforce, trust is our number-one value. Trust is built through demonstrating integrity, reliability, consistency, support and transparency, a role we take very seriously as digital advisers to governments around the world. We publish all of our availability and security incidents.

In our experience, people are prepared to share more data with government, but only if they see a tangible benefit. Governments have to have the right processes in place to retain that data and then use it effectively to create a personalized experience. This leads to not only trust, but engagement and better policy outcomes. Trust is crucial if governments are to fully transition to a digital-first world.



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