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Government as concierge: How can we help you?


Imagine a life with no more trips to the DMV; your new digital license just shows up on your phone. And no more last-minute scrambles to the accountant at tax time, because the government tells you whether you owe money or are due a refund, without your needing to file anything. And no more forms to fill out to enroll in Medicare: an online citizen portal recognizes when you’re eligible and offers to handle the process for you automatically.                                                                                                                                                      

Sound too good to be true? Believe it or not, that’s how many people view the future of government: a source of delight and positive experiences rather than frustrations.

It’s a far cry from the way most citizens would describe their municipal, state, or federal governments today. But as citizens become increasingly mobile and choose to relocate to new cities, states, or countries based on the quality of life, government will become part of that equation. And the governments mired in the past risk losing constituents to those that innovate to compete. These competitive governments are already working toward a “government as concierge” model, and it has the power to be as awesome as it sounds.

Why bother?

Many companies in the private sector have delivered on consumers’ demands for great experiences. Using just the little devices in our pockets, we can order cabs, track the real-time location of the sandwich we ordered 15 minutes ago, adjust a home thermostat from 2,000 miles away, and let a doctor in another city diagnose our kids’ ear infections.

Experiences like these can make interacting with a government agency seem like a step backward in time—or at least a very sobering disappointment. Citizens expect private-sector companies to provide amazing experiences, and those expectations are bleeding over into their expectations of government—with very little payoff.

To meet citizen expectations, governments have to become efficient, responsive, and focused on the user experience, just as private businesses are. Some experts have proposed a model for the future—government as concierge—in which government agencies interact with each other to present a holistic view of the citizen. Armed with a complete picture that pulls together personal data from various sources, the concierge government could then automatically serve citizens with highly targeted services.

“If the government knows everything about me in the way that Google does, then the government can become my concierge,” says Ade McCormack, futurist, digital strategist, and author of Beyond Nine to Five: Your Career Guide for the Digital Age. “The government is in a position to recommend what I do on Saturday, because it knows me better than I do. It can say, ‘I think you should go to the theater,’ or, ‘Looking at your analytics, maybe a run may be more appropriate.’”

Agency integration is key

To make it all work, agencies have to integrate. Remember the last time you filled out a government form? Maybe it was at the DMV, or maybe it was for your tax return. Now imagine that the next time you get a form, it’s online—and it’s mostly prefilled because the government already knows the basics about you.

It’s hard to imagine this level of integration today. In most governments, the computer systems of two different agencies in the same government can’t talk to each other. Even within a single agency, data is usually trapped in distinct siloes. But some agencies are already figuring out the kind of delightful experience that integration can provide for citizens—and the serious money it can save.

In Belgium, for example, the region of Flanders created an interagency data-sharing enterprise software platform that removes friction between departments. Citizens log on to the government website using their government-issued ID, which is linked to their individual profiles.

The platform knows the history of their services and delivers relevant information to citizens without requiring a manual search. Every government interaction—from purchasing bus passes to applying for college grants—takes less time. The government serves 42 million data items every year and has saved more than €100 million in administrative costs since the launch of the initiative.


Soon, “tell me once” initiatives like this will be the norm, and governments will be able to do some pretty cool things with their data. For example, imagine a “citizen locker” that holds all of your financial data and other identifying information. With a secure, cloud-based, historical collection of personal data, the government could do a better job of providing services, based on your stage of life or unique circumstances.

The locker could hold your passport, library card, vehicle registrations, birth certificates, and more. You could receive automatic prompts, such as, “Congratulations! Your daughter is now 10 days old. Her birth certificate is now available in your virtual locker.” You could even decide which bits of information you allow the government to store and which you’d like to opt out of.

This scenario is not a pipe dream. “The Prime Minister of India has announced there will be a single window for every government service,” explains Chandrakant Patel, HPE Fellow and Chief Engineer. “Every citizen will have a locker, and the citizen will own that information.”


What could possibly go wrong?

There are a lot of details to work out before “government as concierge” becomes a reality, including standards and laws around how agencies will use the data they collect. Because while it’s easy to imagine all of the wonderful ways in which governments could serve citizens, it’s just as easy to imagine the ways in which it could all go wrong.

For example, misuse of this data to spy on political adversaries could do profound damage to public trust. And mismanagement of the data could lead to security breaches in which states or groups exploit it for financial or political gain.                                                                                                                                                                

Not optional

It’s a long way from today’s government to our imagined concierge. But if governments want to compete for the best and brightest citizens who will contribute to a vibrant, dynamic economy, they don’t have a choice—they have to start stepping up their game now.

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Jan 30-31, 2018
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