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Get Smart (Service)

Inside Smart Service Queensland, the sunshine state’s ambitious project to create an integrated, whole-of-government approach to delivering services to customers.

While politicians and vendors proclaim their vision of single window service, people in the front lines know just how elusive the goal of ­presenting a single, online face to citizens — especially across multiple levels of government — can be.

Governments around the world may be intent on ripping apart the stovepipes and silos currently standing between their citizens and more efficient public service amidst a rising clamour of demand from those citizens, but the path to seamless service delivery is still a rocky one. Indeed, there is no single path, and no real agreement about which direction to take.

“Most people are talking about the concept of seamless government, a one-stop shop,” newly appointed executive director Smart Service Queensland, Jane King, told CIO Government. “Some have taken a sort of one-inch wide, 10-mile deep view and tried to do a full end-to-end process. Others have gone across the board and said: ‘Okay, let’s just try and get them all together in a one-stop shop.’ We’re going across by bringing all generic services together under Smart Service Queensland,” she said, just three weeks after taking up the position. So Queensland will be engaged for the next couple of years in addressing its own backyard as it were — examining the literally hundreds of thousands of services various state government agencies are delivering with a view to identifying which ones are appropriate to eventually deliver through common outlets, before looking to integrate with the local and federal spheres.

As the private sector pushes to provide more convenient 24x7 services, customers are no longer willing to tolerate insulated, disconnected government entities, King says. Collaboration is becoming the imperative and citizens and businesses demand services independent of organisational boundaries. Nor should they have to care about how various departments might be involved behind the scenes.

The Queensland government idea in the first instance is to consolidate contacts then analyse the patterns of customer requirements before deciding which services could be cost-effectively integrated. Once the first phase is done the agency will move to collaborate with federal and local government counterparts on ways to deliver true, seamless integration.

“When you talk about integrated customer service delivery, one of the key questions is: integrated how far?” King says. “How far, how wide, how do you break up that package, if you like? And by [consolidating contacts] in the first instance we’ll get a lot of data back from customers about the sorts of products and services they tend to group together and want to do at one time. And once you start down that path, and reinforce that obviously through some customer segmentation studies, it starts to give you a clearer view about the products you ultimately need to integrate together to deliver in one package.”

Broad Perspective

King is certainly no stranger to customer service, or the way technology has fuelled an evolution in the demands customers make of their governments. Described by her new bosses as “a customer service specialist with more than 20 years experience working in all three tiers of government”, King watched from within as Telecom deregulated and transitioned from engineering firm to service delivery organisation. (“It moved from an engineering focus to a financial focus in the first instance, but then it eventually worked its way around to a customer focus: realising that if you satisfy the customer the money follows,” she says.) And she was in an excellent position to watch as the morphing of Telecom into Telstra generated new ways of delivering products and a transformation in staff attitudes and behaviour.

After several years out of the workforce tending to the needs of three sons, King worked in a couple of state government departments in a variety of positions, from operational management through to project management positions overseeing the implementation of systems to support the delivery of services. She joined Smart Service Queensland from Brisbane City Council, where she was employed as manager Customer Services for the past five years.

It is a work history she believes uniquely positions her to understand the customer, and the differences between their treatment in the public and private sectors. For instance she says historically much government activity has been highly process-driven, focusing more on ensuring compliance than with meeting customer expectations or aligning resources against customer, rather than agency, priorities.

By contrast, over her time at Telecom/Telstra the main imperative became — as Telecom evolved into effectively a private sector company — the drive for efficiency and profits, and the need to reach targets.

“The public service is much more focused on the need to ensure the ‘intent of the law’ is met, and balancing the community interest and citizen demand against what the government can afford to give,” she says. But she says technology has undeniably been fuelling customer demands for a considerable time.

“Particularly in the customer service area, what we’ve been seeing over the last 10 years is a steady increase in customer demand, which means our actual contacts with customers and transactions that we try to process have been steadily increasing all the time. That’s obviously due to population growth, or the introduction of new services, that sort of thing. And I guess one of the things that most governments have tried to balance is a level of service that allows the citizens to do the business they need to do without necessarily providing the Rolls Royce in terms of service delivery, remembering it’s a public dollar that you’re spending to do that, at the end of the day.”

With more traditional funding avenues drying up she sees her job as finding ways to accommodate growing customer demand by providing “good” levels of customer service within the same budget requirements or constraints which currently operate.

Doors to Perception

Smart Service Queensland commenced operations in the Department of Innovation and Information Economy in March 2002 with a small staff delivering the initial set of services through the Internet and an integrated contact centre. King took up her appointment as executive director on February 24 this year. Two services are already available — camping permits and vehicle and boat registration renewals, with vehicle traverse permits for Fraser and Moreton islands being added. The ultimate aim is to develop an integrated whole-of-government approach to delivering services.

Queensland Minister for Innovation and Information Economy Paul Lucas says the government is responding to research showing a growing demand from customers for access to services 24x7, with around 40 per cent of Internet users already accessing the government Web site after normal working hours. With a select few services already included, another 40 services involving 15 state government agencies are being reviewed for inclusion over the coming 12 months, with more than 400 services set to be rolled out over the next three to five years.

The Web site is designed to let people find information without ever having to understand the structure of government or even know the name of the department or service they are looking for.

“One of the under-riding principles is many of the public don’t know the difference between local, state and federal in terms of who does what service, or across departments, which department to go to for a particular service, so this is the beginning of saying the public shouldn’t have to know. And one day perhaps they will be able to just ring one number or go to one Web site and get something done,” King says.

“The first step, and probably for the next couple of years really, the focus is on our own backyard. We have literally hundreds of services across state government, in various agencies. So for the first few years we’ll be focusing on being able to deliver those services which are appropriate through any outlet.”

Mind Shift

The challenges are many and varied, with the greatest arguably proving to be the cultural shift required of all the staff currently involved in the service delivery business.

“Traditionally they’ve all only delivered and worried about their own service in their own agency, but what we’re talking about now is that you may well be only a part of a package. You may not be delivering your own service; you might be delivering someone else’s, so that’s a fairly big mind shift for a lot of people,” King says. “So I guess one of the first major steps to progress is just getting them to understand why you would bother going down this path. You know — what’s in it for them, what’s in it for customers, what’s in it for the business?” King is actively engaged in “the sell”, particularly in telling staff about the new career paths certain to arise from the work.

“Certainly my experience to date says as we move out of the transaction business, if you like, and in the main that is becoming automated, it is becoming online, it is becoming a self-service type of operation, then a lot of the staff tend to shift to the knowledge management-type roles. So we’re trying to shift them away from doing everything for customers, albeit that will obviously be a phased approach, to do the improvement of service and using their knowledge to improve in a continuous process,” she says.

Much of the “behind-closed-doors” work has involved establishing the tools, methodologies and frameworks required to kick the process off, including defining the governance structure, optimal approaches to achieving the same look and feel for all services and identifying potential areas of streamlining and the business benefit.

“A lot of work over the last two years has involved establishing a common BPR methodology, so that everybody is re-engineering their products in the same way. And that means that when they reach for the Smart Service Queensland end of the business, we’re fairly confident that we’re getting something we know how to operate with, and that when it goes up into a Web environment the customers of Queensland will get the same look and feel each time that they try and do a generic type of transaction like make a payment or do a search or make an application.”

Now Smart Service is transitioning services to the new environment, setting up an integrated contact centre and ensuring the Web presence reflects clusters of products and services — not a department by department view — a process King describes as setting up services to reflect the way a customer thinks rather than how the department operates.

“It’s a phased approach,” she says. “We’ll be gearing up over the next few years.”

And she says the work involved over the next few years is hugely challenging, but the vision is both potent and unarguable. “I think really the debates might come with the how — what are the phases and what pace, because obviously there are a lot of things we need to balance here … But the fact that everyone can see that the vision is right, the vision makes sense, is I think the driving thing and if we all keep focused on that then you will achieve what you’re looking for at the end of the day.”

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