• Like many industries, governments are taking a customer-led approach to service delivery.
  • For governments, it means designing services that fit into citizens’ lives, rather than expecting citizens to fit around government services. 
  • To achieve this, the public sector must understand that the human is as important as the digital, as well as harness the technology around them.

The pace of digital transformation efforts in the private sector are outpacing that of the public sector. Governments, however, recognise that given the accelerating pace of technological change, this situation is not sustainable. They need to pick up the pace to remain relevant, and meet the evolving needs of their citizens. The future is on the agenda now.

This future goes well beyond citizen-centric services, or whole-of-government approaches to service delivery — it gravitates toward whole-of-life mindset. Understanding the citizen model, not through a government lens, but holistically, is the new holy grail. To achieve that requires a shift from governing for citizens to governing with citizens.

The five levels
of government maturity 

While the transformation of public services seems to be moving at a slower pace than other sectors, it would be misleading to assume that government service delivery is not evolving. Over the past four years, working with all levels of government in Australia, we experienced, as well as influenced, evolution first-hand. Through that experience, we identified five levels of government maturity which we’ve called Government 1.0 to Government 5.0. 

Due to their organisational complexity, governments can simultaneously be on different levels — with some departments leading, and others lagging. Government 5.0, which is what governments should be aspiring to, therefore cannot be achieved by any single government alone: it requires multiple public sector organisations to work together.

Governments at level 1.0 focus on delivery of standalone services. While they might excel at quality of service or user experience, they don’t yet see beyond individual services. 

When they evolve Government 2.0, they start to focus on scale and reach of their services: digital divide and equitability become a focus. They ensure that their services are accessible by everyone, but they don’t yet truly understand the holistic impact of their services. This need to understand the cost-benefit ratio shifts governments to the 3.0 level. 

Government 3.0 organisations are passionate about efficiency; they refine their operating models and focus on practicality of service delivery. This occasionally leads to reduction of services available, but it also helps them recognise that there might be benefits in aligning service delivery across the entire organisation. 

As a result, at Government 4.0, the efforts shift toward whole-of-government alignment. One-stop-shops, proactive service delivery, and data sharing become the topic of focus. And while 4.0 organisations pride themselves in being citizen-centric, they are only just uncovering what citizen-centricity truly means.

The customer-insights teams of Government 4.0 quickly realise that interactions with citizens are typically initiated by so-called life events: changes in circumstances that trigger a need for a product or service. For most life events, though, these needs are for more than just one organisation. The insights gained from Government 4.0 leads to a realisation that whole-of-government approaches are not truly citizen-centric. For true citizen-centricity, a whole-of-life approach is required.

The next level, Government 5.0, therefore shifts the organisation’s mindset from the business model toward the citizen model Governments start to fit into citizens’ lives, rather than expecting the citizens to fit into governments’ processes. It is the first maturity level where governments of various levels and of various jurisdictions truly see the value of coming together to align their service delivery.

Digital Pulse Government 5.0 Exhibit 1

Source: QUT Chair in Digital Economy

The key trends
in Government 5.0

The holistic, citizen-led approach that defines 5.0 may be what governments are currently aspiring to, but they must be cognisant of the trends that are constantly shaping and redefining the service delivery: 

Digital sanitisation

In recent years both governments and businesses have had a laser focus on efficiency, under the guise of automation and rationalisation. Many services were replaced with call centres, automated machines, and apps. Some of them, like pre-filled tax forms, have their place. And yes, automation does allow more people to be serviced. But recent reports indicate that citizens are expecting more ‘human touch’

Digital sanitisation — the removal of human interactions from services where they are not crucial — is not welcomed by citizens. This is understood by other sectors, such as banking or insurance, where companies have started to re-implement the opposite: personalisation. They are bringing back the human touch where it is expected, with positive outcomes. This requires finding the right balance between efficiency, effectiveness, and affectiveness (connecting with a customer’s emotions).

The demise of industries

Gone are the days when organisations were born in one industry, thrived in it and never moved to another. As organisations follow their customers, industry divisions are no longer relevant.

Similarly, traditional divides between healthcare and social services may no longer make sense as our understanding, especially of individuals, increases. To adapt to citizens rather than the other way around will require more flexible thinking — the demise of industries may in fact lead to the demise of departments.

There is an opportunity to group departments around life events. One Government 5.0 example already underway is the Department of Having a Baby. The Australian Federal Government’s Digital Transformation Agency is working to re-design services to remove the complexity of engaging with multiple different departments for the one life event and ensuring a consistent service delivery standard across the board. 

Digital twinning

Increased computer power and the falling cost and technical requirements to create sensors means that governments should be trying to model as much of their world as they can. The world is increasingly complex, but the tools available to comprehend it are also proliferating. 

One way to achieve this is through digital replicas of the world: digital twins. This could be a simulation of a downtown area facing severe traffic flow or increased demand for particular services. Large geo-spatial twins are being created at the state level (as we’ve observed with the New South Wales government), to capture and manage environmental information. This concept could be extended to include information about the economy, to create a true digital twin of a government’s jurisdiction.

Such digital twins would allow policy makers to visualise problems and policies, and real time updates from sensors can help them monitor over time and unveil potential solutions and allow policymakers to understand the full scope of the impact of their decisions. 

Where to
from here?

What government organisations must understand is that changes in societal expectations, technologies, and business will never be this slow again. Government 5.0 is therefore a call to arms to reorganise as much as possible around best practice, around the citizen and to include and work with them. This requires a kind of flexibility that may not currently be possible in the public sector. To achieve this, bold needs to be the new agile, and more than a buzzword.

The QUT Chair in Digital Economy (CDE) is a globally recognised collaboration between industry, academia and government that seeks to discover opportunities within the digital economy for business and government. 

Founded in 2015 by QUT, PwC, Queensland Government and Brisbane Marketing, CDE creates new value through co-innovation, builds capability through executive education, and drives cultures of innovation through a unique integration of research and design consultancy. www.chairdigitaleconomy.com


Digital Pulse contributor Marek Kowalkiewicz


Marek Kowalkiewicz

Marek is a professor and the head of Chair in Digital Economy at the QUT Business School.

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Digital Pulse contributor Paula Dootson


Paula Dootson

Paula is a senior lecturer in the Chair in Digital Economy at the QUT Business School.

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