How Tech Ideas Could Revolutionize the Public Sector

The public sector is overdue for a little disruption. Here’s our take on five leading tech companies and what they have to offer to public services.

Despite different cultures, platforms and audiences, disruption is something the last decade’s leading tech startups have in common. Taking a new function and business model, leaving markets and users with a whole new set of expectations has generated impressive figures in user uptake and capital gains. And while we’ve seen a lot of copy-paste tactics in the private sector the public sector has been much slower to change.

We feel that there are significant lessons still left to learn from what these services delivered and what potential they hold for the public sector.

Dropbox: Because it Just Works

In 2007, when MIT students Drew Houston and Arash Fardowsi set out to tackle the problem of syncing files across multiple devices, it was a crowded field with dozens of major players. Cut to now and there are less than 10 and Dropbox leads with 400 million users sharing 1.2 billion files every day. What’s the factor for success in this highly competitive sector; near-flawless execution.

Perfect execution is certainly an admirable goal, but in the realm of public services is most definitely out of reach. What Dropbox really did was scratch that itch. By taking on the real problem of file segmentation across an array of devices and moving the file to an online server that’s always available, they found and elegant solution and invested heavily in making sure it would always be up.

Zendesk: Feedback Loop Efficiencies

Customer service in the cloud from Zendesk, a concept refined by a trio in Copenhagen in 2007, has seen some impressive growth. Seven years later, the SaaS startup staffs more than 800 and is listed on the NYSE. Certainly, product and service companies who make up the majority of Zendesk’s growing customer base benefit greatly from an open ticketing system.

Many municipal set-ups for customer service that require cross organizational support suffer under in-house bureaucratic models.  In the London boroughs of Nawham and Havering, they are fighting this. What began with shared IT services has expanded to a broad range of back-office council services hosted in the cloud. The councils have made gains in efficiency and better use of public resources, translating to annual savings of £12m while still raising resident satisfaction levels.

Apart from gains made by consolidating bureaucracies along economies of scale, what open ticketing systems like Zendesk really promise is greater transparency by seeing who worked on what, when and where, for whom. For all stakeholders involved from public workers to residents, the ability to flag, follow, thread and achieve issues turn every transaction into a datapoint that can serve valuable lessons in improving service efficiencies and increasing resident satisfaction.

Uber: Resource Utilization

Since its launch in 2009, Uber has made heads turn in nearly every market they’ve entered. The transportation company that recruits and connects independent drivers with passengers looks to generate an estimated $500 million in revenue by 2015. Their model demonstrates an enormous capacity for maximizing utility over available resources.

Much has already been said about the ‘uber-ization’ of business models (Lyft, Airbnb) that exploit the sharing economy, but the impact on the public sector is still in its infancy. Efficiencies in back-office functions like IT, finance and HR are already being serviced in this manner with great success in Buurtzorg, Holland where a staff of 30 support 7,000 community facing nurses.

But what Uber really revolutionizes for users is the phenomenon of waiting. By tapping on your phone Uber will route and charge the user the price for serving up the closest transportation option. Waiting in lines is common to the first-come-first-served style for government services. In Denmark, it’s survival of the fittest. Appraising bottlenecks that lead to waiting times for services from seeing a physician to transport to meeting with social workers could all benefit from a little uber-ization.

Moves: Makes Sense to Everyone

After 4 million downloads for iOS and Android and an acquisition from Facebook,  it’s safe to say fitness app Moves stands out from the crowded field. With a simple, clear and approachable interface they were able to reach a more mainstream audience for users not traditionally into sports or quantifying their activities.

The intersection of personal and system-wide accountability has been a major drive in the personal health data movement. Mastering the data isn’t the exclusive domain of doctors and data scientists.  By engaging their rights and accessing their electronic records, patients have access to data that make them active partners in their treatment decisions. Making them easily readable and actionable is an important step in that direction.

Snapchat: Earning Trust by Guarding Privacy

To get the most out of the medium, shooting and watching videos on a mobile phone demands a landscape approach. However, with over 200 million users in the 13-24 year old demographic, Snapchat has eschewed this technique by listening to their core audience. People don’t rotate their phones to watch videos, so Snapchat encourages advertisers to create vertical content.

No filters, no geo-tagging, almost none of the other standard features users have come to expect in a photo sharing app are present in Snapchat. However, users from the most sought after demographic have flocked and stayed with the service for one reason, authenticity.

Public services would be well advised to take authenticity seriously. While Snapchat’s privacy issues haven’t been perfect they have taken a consistent approach on real personal connections. Bureaucracies won’t likely be able to get rid of records in the same way Snapchat deletes photos, but by establishing real connections and making genuine assurances towards privacy they might have a chance at authenticity. Some right here in Thisted, Denmark already have.

Partner, Account Director