Doing More with Less:
Technology and the Innovation Imperative

These days, forces of change affect every type of organization — both private and public. Across the public sector, including all three orders of government, organizations face multiple challenges of meeting public expectations about service quality, data accessibility and transparency in decision making. Yet at the same time, they also face ageing infrastructure, falling grant levels and tough economic times to raise tax revenue.

To ease the pressure, the public sector is turning to technology to offer better public engagement in processes such as municipal budgeting while deploying data analytics tools to drive customer/citizen-oriented service innovation. However, the expense of new technology enhancement must be carefully considered against budgetary pressures.

“The starting point of our conversation with most public sector clients is asking 'What are you trying to achieve?'” says Chris Lavin, MNP’s Alberta Public Sector Advisory Services Leader. He warns that without a clear vision of both the internal and external goals, public sector decision makers overseeing technology adoption can end up with costly systems that seek to solve too many problems. “Priority setting exercises are important.”

Prioritization is especially critical when considering competing technology solution options. The range of technologies now available to public sector organizations can help drive a priority-setting process, reduce the cost of service delivery and infrastructure replacement and boost data analysis capabilities that provide better insights into customer needs.

Pauline Martin, Government Industry Solutions Executive for Microsoft Canada, says that artificial intelligence applications available now offer operational efficiencies and improve service accessibility (e.g., with translation options or for individuals with disabilities such as hearing or vision impairments).

In various jurisdictions, government agencies are also piloting chatbots, initially as an internal information support resource for front line workers, but eventually as an interface with members of the public seeking answers from departments. “We look forward to continuing to enable government organizations to better serve and protect Canadians with infrastructure, collaboration, cloud and security capabilities, while removing barriers so people of all abilities can thrive in a more inclusive workplace,” says Pauline.

However, she points out that deploying technology to improve public services is about much more than shifting from an analog service to a digital one. “We are deploying innovative cloud-based productivity tools, using available data and AI insights to enable a more nimble and engaged approach so the government organisations can focus more investment and energy on delivering the core services to all Canadians,” says Pauline. She adds governments could be delivering services in more immediate and convenient ways that allow public servants to spend less time on administrative tasks. Automation of lower-level tasks, Pauline explains, will ultimately help government workers spend more time in the field delivering benefits to citizens — as social workers, scientists or public safety officers.

In some cases, these goals can be achieved through strategic collaborations between public sector entities within a given region, as well as in partnership with other economic development initiatives. But, as Chris says, the bottom line comes back to the ultimate consumers of public services. “What’s driving innovation in the public sector is the steady increase in the expectations of citizens.”

In October, MNP will release the findings of the Local Government Innovation Survey delivered in partnership with municipal associations across western Canada. Please contact MNP's Chris Lavin for more details.