Netflix and Uber should inspire government digital experiences

Government must provide citizens with the same quality of digital experience they have as consumers, says WSO2 CTO Eric Newcomer

Posted 17 February 2022 by Christine Horton

Government must provide citizens with the same quality of digital experience that they have with Netflix or Uber.

That’s according to WSO2 chief technology officer, Eric Newcomer.

“Consumers and citizens just want to get the job done,” he explained. “They just want to pay their tax bill or file a form. They just want to have the same kind of experience they have with Uber or Netflix or any other website that is intuitive and anticipates how they want to interact with them.”

Newcomer said instead of government dictating the engagement, it should allow citizens to say how they would like to interact with the government. APIs play a huge role, he said, as enablers of digital transformation.

“Having a great GUI [graphical user interface] is one thing, but it has to be connected to servers. It has to provide the data into the GUI, and that’s having the right API design and thinking about APIs first. That’s how you put the external face on your IT systems so that you can interact and provide a great experience to citizens through the digital apps,” said Newcomer.

Common data store

One of the biggest challenges remains, however, that departments aren’t joined up when it comes to sharing data and the citizen experience.

“The government should just know when one department gives information to another but they don’t because their IT systems have evolved over the last 20, 30-40 years, and to support that particular function. There wasn’t really a thought when the systems were built for supporting multiple functions with the data. So you get many different copies of citizen records and IDs, for example.

“This goes back to where we should be able to put any APIs in place on systems to consolidate the data.”

Newcomer said WSO2 was working with a customer in the US on consolidating customer information from 50 different systems in one place. So when somebody calls in, the service representative has all the information systems in place.

“Government can do some very similar by creating these APIs that provide data feeds to a common data store. But of course, it’s going to take some work and some effort. Cloud can help as well because it supports huge datasets. Then you can use that common data store to share the data across the departments to do it, but it’s going to take a bit of time.

“It’s all about speed. It’s about service. You need to get the digital apps in front of the customer. Get that feedback. Everyone talks about innovation as if it were an idea that we push out to someone and they will accept it. But innovation really comes when you put something out to citizens and see what their reaction is and finally understand what their problems are. So you really need to get into this virtuous cycle of putting something out there as possible and being able to iterate as quickly as possible. That’s the only way you’re going to discover and solve problems.”