The Service Innovation Team at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) commissioned a short discussion paper to begin to explore the value proposition of "Government as a Platform" as a basis for service integration, to enable a broader ecosystem of service delivery and to explore broader socio-economic benefits of the model. The paper was written by Brock Jera, who has deep NZ Treasury experience, in collaboration with members of the Service Innovation LabPlus team, with input and support from Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and the Government Chief Information Officer team in DIA. Our many thanks to all who provided the feedback and examples.
A Story – How flipping a simple switch saved a lot of time and money
Many interactions with government are trivial or administrative, like a visit to the doctor to be sure a minor issue isn’t something bigger. As soon as issues become even a little bit more complicated, they are often not resolved with a single visit.
Frequently a caregiver, counsellor, doctor, physio, claims processor etc. will review an application, make an assessment, determine a course of action and then get approval for funding or next steps. Approval processes like these are part of many government interactions.
We’re used to these processes and we’ve gotten used to waiting for approvals and results.
So it isn’t uncommon or surprising to any of us to hear about a process that includes searching for a provider, then meeting for assessment, then hearing that a request for approval is required, and then making another appointment, perhaps elsewhere, with different evidence or getting re-approval or assessment if treatment or service is ongoing.
We often don’t know that caregivers and other service providers can be required to fill out scores of data fields — sometimes on paper — to get approval and funding to provide care or service. We often don’t think about the cost to review and decide on all of these requests that sits somewhere in government.
The value of innovation
For one service, a simple innovation changed the entire equation. An analyst in Wellington realised that for one service they provided approval for, only four data fields determined the approval process in approximately 95% of cases.
Others in the agency rallied around this discovery and went further: exposing these four criteria to their providers alongside a few questions about risk. Processes and forms were changed to make it easier for qualified providers who could tick these boxes. Even further, they began investigating automation of the process that would allow caregivers to provide assessment, approval and service in the same visit.
This simple change exposing data and a process, saved people time, reduced stress and uncertainty, reduced paperwork, and saved money for service providers and approval agencies. This change in approach is at the core of Government as a Platform, which is a more ambitious extension of this same idea.
Government as a Platform is about making certain data and decision rules of government open and available digitally and for use by others through an orderly and reliable platform. This paper is an early exploration of the value proposition for Government as a Platform to New Zealand.
Incorporating a platform approach to service delivery enables civic and private sector actors to deliver additional convenience, function and service to meet the broad spectrum of public needs that government by itself could not.
The Apple appstore is one example of such a platform that enables orderly extension and contribution by others, while Global Positioning System (GPS) is just one existing example of Government as a Platform.
For government itself the benefits start with short-term cashable savings and averted costs. Trials show reduced call centre contacts, lower staff contact and more rapid processing of requests. The scale and scope benefits in moving from trials to a broad Government as a Platform approach are much larger, as government could use common data collection and management.
As other partners meet an increasingly diverse set of public needs, discontent with government is reduced. Government is enabled to focus its efforts strategically, and on what it does best.
For the public, time and convenience are important benefits. Certain life events require lots of government contact at once, which can be a negative experience if services are disjointed. This time impact can be large for those running a business, or managing among disadvantage.
The social benefits could be particularly high. Many disadvantaged New Zealanders are particularly time poor. Lack of time, stress and uncertainty are barriers to service, preventing the help we hope to deliver via government.
The economy benefits from enabling innovation and entrepreneurship. Government-enabled networks have been a foundation of productivity. Government as a Platform has demonstrated the potential to enable economic and public good.
Finally, if government does not adopt the tools driving economic productivity gains, it is forced to take a rising share of inputs or face funding cuts.
Introduction – Government as a Platform
Many groundbreaking innovations have been platforms that enable others to interact, solve problems and meet needs that could not have been met solely by the platform provider.
Apple and the smartphone, and Amazon show the potential of building a platform that enables others to deliver far more, and to be more transformative, than the platform providers themselves ever could be.
These great platforms are not the Wild West, but are controlled, orderly and accessible. Platforms expose how to access, interact with and build on themselves to partners. An exceptional platform is enabling for partners, but it also enables the provider with controls, along with the ability to shape a core strategy and ensure that a core customer group is served consistently.
Government as a Platform is built from transparent, orderly, and digital access to:
- decision rules of government
- transaction services
- appropriate data obtained by and created from government activity.
Decision rules in government cover a wide range of contexts and domains such as how eligibility is determined, applications approved or compliance determined. Transaction services cover a range of transactional interactions with government including registration, reporting or payments. Data covers a wide range of activities, inputs, outputs and observations gleaned from these.
Just like the introductory story, Government as a Platform flips a simple switch. Instead of government taking all responsibility for every step of a process by default, government would start by exposing its data and decision rules where possible and be clear about its own delivery and complementary activities required to deliver government’s priorities. This approach removes government as a bottleneck, and enables others to uncover and meet particular customer needs.
A core role of government would be to:
- create and guide an orderly and accessible platform
- enable others to deliver alongside government and, where effective and appropriate, instead of government.
Government as a Platform in Practice
The examples in the paper show how government data platforms continue to lead to surprising innovations. This openness and convenience is the benchmark people want, experience daily, and increasingly expect from government.
Lab+ and Result 10 research show that people get frustrated by searching across government for services and programmes, and providing the same information to different agencies when an important life event occurs. This demand is driving the integrated or federated services approach. One ambition for Government as a Platform is a common government information platform enabling government to hold and use common data itself.
Another ambition for Government as a Platform is a predictable source of appropriate government data, and the use of some automated decision rules. Open rules allow authorised parties to predict how they can make interaction with government timely, tailored and effective. Transactional services enable the public and providers integrated, common solutions for common tasks. Together these tools enable innovation from private and third sector parties.
Government platforms have underpinned our prosperity
Government provided infrastructure has been critical to advancing the public good. It is possible to crowd onto the head of a pin about when it is the best role for government to create such platforms, but it is generally agreed to be when, once the infrastructure is in place:
- People cannot easily or effectively be excluded from using it, and
- One person’s use doesn’t decrease the benefits available to others.
There is rarely clear-cut certainty (outside of providing a defence force), but a fully-fledged approach to Government as a Platform has a similar public good profile to other important infrastructure. Government-provided roads, sanitation and radio also have these characteristics, and each has been an economic and social boon.
Roads were the backbone network for the technology and growth opportunities of another era. From 1950-1970, modern road networks provided a significant, sustained and measured productivity boost that has been confirmed across a broad range of industries. There is little doubt about the breadth of benefit from the road network, and its impact across the economy and society (along with some drawbacks!).
The internet itself is the canonical story of government enabling the next generation of productivity-supporting infrastructure. While the internet has transformed countless sectors, in the majority of cases, the benefits of a digital interaction with government are yet to be realised.
Government as a Platform can enable this potential for digital infrastructure in the public good. The potential magnitude of change is seen in the innumerable public interactions governed or directly provided by government each year and the roughly 30% of GDP represented by government to support these transactions, goods and services.
Like the road network, this infrastructure could enable others to understand when and how they can connect to government, to build extensions to the network it would provide, to use that network to enable a wide range of other objectives, and to understand how to stand on the shoulders of government to provide services that improve the experience of government for the public.
Also like other networks, it is important to consider when elements of cost recovery are sensible, and when they are likely to reduce the benefits arising from a public infrastructure network.
The rest of the paper covers case studies and examples including the MSD digital transformation work, economic opportunities created, social benefits to society and recommendations moving forward.
Some of the the Lab+ and Result 10 research can be found on the Web Toolkit. Result 10 is part of the Better Public Services programme, which has set 10 challenging results for the public sector to achieve.