John Reiners (profile)
Government Leader - IBM Center for Applied Insights
Last week, IBM hosted several U.S. Congressmen, their support teams, and media on Capitol Hill on the theme "IBM's Smarter States: How Tech Innovations Will Impact the Future of Government."
At the event, public safety was discussed as one of the areas of opportunity. We have recently published our research into the ROI of smarter public safety.
Our research, carried out over several months last year, looked at new approaches to public safety being adopted by agencies around the world, in law enforcement, fire, EMS, and disaster response. It presents the growing evidence of tangible benefits that these new approaches are delivering. You can check out a summary of the results in the study report. You and your colleagues can also access a Benefit Estimator, which can apply the research findings to calculate the potential benefits for your own organization.
I was asked the other day to summarise what we found out from our research, beyond the results presented in the report. There is always more to say than will fit in a single report! That question got me thinking, however, because the lessons learned during this research project probably apply equally to other areas of government and indeed other industries facing rapid technological change. So, here are my top 5 lessons learned:
- The move towards smarter ways of working is truly a global trend. The forces that are driving change, pressures on public budgets + growing public expectations for improved service levels, are shared by public sector organizations almost everywhere. There are a number of ways agencies are responding:
- Traditional cost cutting
- Radical structural changes, such as partnering with private sector organizations, or creating back office shared service centres
- Investing in new smarter approaches.
- There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that smarter approaches pay. Savings are typically found in three areas. Firstly through improving data quality (a single version of the truth). Secondly, improving how information is shared - helping collaboration between front line workers and with the HQ/command centre. Thirdly, significant benefits are achieved through extracting meaning from the data - to drive better resource allocation and decision making and to move to predictive and preventative approaches. Leading agencies have been seeing these benefits for a few years now - so, a solid evidence base exists.
- The evidence, however, is not complete. There are some modernising initiatives we found impossible to assess based on evidence to date. For Public Safety, for example, agencies are starting to actively use social media: both to collate intelligence and to engage with the community. Anecdotal evidence suggests that using new tools to mine social data can be an efficient way to collate useful data; though, others complain about the huge volumes of noise, making it time consuming to extract anything meaningful. Others complain that it raises public expectations to yet higher levels. The truth is, it is too early to comment on the economic case as detailed case studies have yet to be published. And yet, agencies have no choice but to respond to the new technology.
- Technology is driving changes in mission. Our study concentrated on new approaches to existing public safety activities (such as collating evidence, investigating and responding to incidents). But the changing technological landscape is also driving significant change in how they operate. For example, in law enforcement, criminal activity is increasingly moving on-line with a double digit year-on-year increase in cybercrime. Meanwhile many "traditional" crimes, such as property crime, are decreasing. This will have implications for resourcing - as cybercrime may best be tackled by teams operating at a national level whereas local patrols are best deployed to prevent and respond to property crime.
- A broad definition of benefits is needed. When presenting the case for investing in smarter approaches, much of the focus will be on future operating efficiencies. It is particularly difficult to present business cases based solely on efficiency savings, especially as extremely quick paybacks are normally mandated by Government and the competition for project funds is intense. The case for smarter becomes unanswerable once a broader definition of benefits, based on improved outcomes is introduced - including real, measurable benefits to other stakeholders (for example, savings in court and corrections costs from lower crime levels). Other, less tangible benefits should also be part of the decision making process - although hard to quantify, they may contribute greatly to the agency's goals (for example, improving community relations).
There is a natural tendency to prefer this last one, as it offers the promise of cost saving & improved service levels as well as keeping control of operations. Though because investment is needed, it may be harder to secure the funds needed unless a convincing case can be made.
So do these points resonate with other areas of government and other industries? and what are the implications? For example, how can we move to a more sophisticated debate on how to invest in smarter approaches that:
- encompasses changes in mission rather than just automating current ways of working,
- recognises that technology is not static,
- highlights the broader ways in which value is generated, and
- is part of a true transformation program that complements rather than competes with other initiatives.