Innovation in the public sector – why is it so important right now?

Philipp Roth, Partner, Government & Public Services Industry Leader speaks about innovation as a means for Switzerland’s Government to boost competitiveness.

The public sector has made great strides, however, more needs to be done. How insights on the Swiss Government can make further progress with innovation.

Innovation in the public sector – is that what Switzerland needs to advance?

Yes, absolutely. In general, the government creates the regulatory framework and how we can work together with the government is within this framework. Efficient, digital processes reduce the administrative workload and facilitates cooperation. At the same time, an innovative government creates demand for innovative products and services from suppliers in Switzerland. For example, a government that does its correspondence on paper buys paper. A government with digital processes needs digital services. And the desire for e-government is growing amongst the population, as our survey "The journey to digital transformation in the public sector" shows. Secondly, the importance of an agile, innovative government was demonstrated this year with the pandemic. Within a short amount of time, both companies and the government had to adapt and react to the new conditions. This went very well, in some cases such as with short-time work or issuing of corona loans. Also the Corona App was introduced faster and better in Switzerland than in some other countries. Unfortunately, things did not go well everywhere. In general, data collection is still often duplicated, with the data collected stored separately from each other. We also see that a great deal is still communicated on paper, with citizens, but also between government agencies.

What is especially important?

There are basically two areas. One is about communication between citizens or companies and the government. The second is about communication and the exchange of data within the government. Naturally, the focus is often on the former rather than the latter. However, the data exchange between the authorities has almost more potential. As a company or private person, I want to be able to deal with the authorities as easily and conveniently as possible. Once this has been done for one thing, it should be possible to digitally transfer the data between authorities without any issues, taking data protection into account and without the need for manual input again. The result would be a faster, more efficient and less error-prone process. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Each system gap, each manual transfer from one database to another makes the overall system more expensive and more error-prone. What is needed here is a non-trivial, unglamorous, but all the more important standardisation in the background. The user interfaces could still be individualised for individual communities or cantons, but these systems would be compatible in the background. Doing this in one massive overarching project would of course be overly ambitious, but steps should be taken in this direction. Last but not least, the results of our survey also show that the population wants nationwide standardised digital services from the government.

Does that mean it is primarily a question of technology?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Of course, it needs technology, but not only. In fact, as we noted in our survey of the public sector during the pandemic, the technology is often already available. What it takes is four elements, all of which must be met. First is technology, and as said, it often already exists. Second, the corresponding digitised work processes, access to documents, databases, information, of course whilst guaranteeing data protection - this is where problems often begin. Simply converting a paper 1:1 into a PDF, that wastes potential for optimisation. One could go further and rethink the relevant processes and make greater use of the opportunities offered by digitisation. Third, it needs the right culture. It doesn't help if, for example, you could work from home, but your line manager doesn't allow it. As our survey shows, there is still some catching up to do in this area. And finally, the fourth element is the need for the appropriate legal essentials, such as the electronic signature. It is a technically easy to digitise correspondence, but if this can only be done partially because manual signatures are required for example, then this process remains manual.

How can we make progress here?

The public sector has made great strides, much is already provided. However, it is important that first of all the processes are optimised in cooperation with all key stakeholders. This requires political will, and digitisation must be seen as a priority. It is not just a question for the public sector; they should not be expected to do everything alone. Companies should also be involved; it is more a question of where and how private sector expertise should be usefully incorporated.

Second, important basic elements, fundamentals, must be implemented, e.g. the digital signature. This would offer legal security in Switzerland and open up the possibility to do business transactions digitally. If this can be realised, new impulses for e-commerce will open up and not least of which, smaller companies and start-ups should be able to benefit from the new opportunities. The public sector should drive important new technologies forward, whilst ensuring necessary legal and health protections.

Third, security and trust in digitisation and in the government are absolutely crucial. The first two steps can only succeed if all activities are carried out whilst guaranteeing data protection, data security and health. Trust in public institutions is high, but this achievement must be maintained at all costs, which is all the more important in the current situation.

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