Seamless citizen experiences through ‘smarter cities’


As a retail consumer, the most satisfying experiences might be those that never happen. Our interactions just go smoothly. This is true in the public sector as well – citizens are consumers too, and if we want to deliver on the promise of “smarter cities,” we need to simplify the way public sector organisations and citizens interact.

Technology will be a key facilitator. Advanced technologies, such as machine learning and internet of things (IoT), offer a way forward to improve citizen satisfaction when transacting with government agencies.

While there is a lot of talk around what a smart city should look like, public sector organisations struggle to know which services offer citizens the most value. When it comes to high volume, day-to-day interactions between citizens and government agencies, the right application of technology can sidestep one of the most common complaints of civic engagement – a poor customer service experience.

‘We value your call…’

There is no greater turn-off than waiting on-hold because a customer service representative is unavailable, or similarly, making a request via a social media account and not receiving a timely response. But what if the agency initiated contact with its citizens before they even picked up the phone?

At the Smart City Expo World Congress November 13 through 15 in Barcelona, DXC Technology is demoing technology that provides a compelling answer to this question. We highlight SAP Leonardo technologies, specifically IoT and machine learning, being used by an electricity retailer to warn customers about a power outage. Using data from the customer’s smart meter, the utility identifies which customers are affected and sends out an SMS text alert. The message informs customers about the outage in their area and what caused it, assures them that it is being fixed and provides time frames when power will be restored.

In this scenario, customers have an interaction with their provider that they didn’t initiate; it happens automatically. If the customer is at work or on holiday, the alert may be the first time they know about the outage and it could provide real-time information needed to avert a domestic disaster. A freezer full of rotting food, anyone?

Role reversal

This scenario is a complete reversal of what typically happens, where it is up to citizens to initiate communication with their provider. By reversing the status quo and being proactive, the customer experience improves dramatically. Despite the fact that government agencies have worked hard at opening new communication channels – in-app chatbots and social media, for example – they all require the citizen to act first. What this smart meter scenario demonstrates is the power of a frictionless experience to deliver vastly improved customer satisfaction. Utility companies realise that customer churn occurs not because customers experience the odd power cut, but because of the poor customer service they receive trying to communicate with their provider about the power outage. The experience is so annoying they switch providers hoping for a more seamless experience next time around.

And, while our example has a utility focus, it is easy to extrapolate to a public sector scenario. Take, for example, a traffic light outage. If a local council could let commuters know there is an outage by sending a message – either via a traffic app or SMS text – before they hit the traffic snag, they could make a detour and still arrive at the office on time. Better yet, imagine if traffic light information and roadwork data could be published via Open Data standards so that Google and others could build that information into their personal voice assistants.

Many appreciate saying “OK Google” and not only being updated about the news and weather but also being told about recent traffic incidents or roadwork and having a new route automatically sent to their mapping app.

Public sector organisations don’t necessarily need to own the entire value chain from data through to intelligence and notification. There are other partners, such as Google and Apple, who already provide part of these services.  This is where an open platform approach becomes important. Public sector organisations need to make their information available widely – both to their own channels, such as their website, as well as to outside parties who want to consume it – if they want to deliver value to the widest cross-section of the population.

Lessons from the commercial world

The B2C world has been much quicker to embrace these learnings. That’s why a lot of energy is devoted to making ecommerce websites easy to navigate. The more frictionless an organisation can make all parts of the purchasing process — from discovery and selection of desired items through to cart checkout and payment options — the better the customer experience and the more sales are generated. The convenience of it all happening at the click of a button or two is one of the enduring delights of online shopping.

Public sector organisations are rapidly learning that lesson and understanding the need to be customer-focused. Translating that awareness into the funding they need is where the real difficulty lies. Making the case to reduce costs by automating high volume transactions is part of the business case, but knowing where exactly to invest those savings to improve citizen value outcomes is a more complex equation.

Working in harmony

Thanks to the technology now available, public sector organisations should and can aspire to delivering satisfying consumer experiences that keep getting better: By proactively gathering data and sharing information in real time, public sector organisations can provide seamless and empowering experiences, which, in turn, will gain them more trust from their citizens. A relationship based on trust creates a positive feedback loop. With more trust, citizens are more likely to share more of their data, and if public sector organisations can use that data responsibly, they can be more proactive in their communications and service offerings – and provide vastly improved citizen experiences.

Benoit Honorat is SAP ICX Leader for DXC France.

Nicola Venus is SAP ICX Leader for DXC UKIMEA.

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