The Gallery: Emerging Digital Opportunities to Reinvent Social Services Delivery

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Fast-emerging digital technologies are creating new opportunities for government to make delivery of services to citizens in need more proactive, targeted to individual needs and driven by outcomes, not processes. The possibilities are increasingly affordable and within reach for more agencies.

As human services leaders build digital strategies and attempt to move up the Health and Human Services Value Curve, they must forge new ways of working and using technology (see figure 1). Digital advances are opening new ways of empowering people and enabling manageable change. Three digital trends in social services can unlock data insight to help agencies shift from a transactional output models to a core focus on delivering better outcomes for the citizens being served.

ANALYTICS: Real-time Data Insights

Many social service agencies collect and use data for compliance and operational reporting every day. However, outputs from those processes may not be outcome oriented or predictive and often do not inform service delivery practices. Agencies that want to develop insight from citizen data to make programmatic decisions may not know where and how to start and be overwhelmed by enormous amounts of data. Well-intentioned attempts to manage big data can be confusing, expensive and slow to provide insight. A better alternative is often built on starting with smaller data sets and smaller projects, using flexible technology to take a more “bite size” approach.

Agencies can use real-time data analysis to optimize service delivery, getting results in weeks, not months or years. The new opportunities are being made possible with a new breed of predictive analytics solutions that don’t require large investments in data warehouses, enabling agencies to purchase the needed technology as a service.

Agencies on the leading edge of social service analytics are increasingly focused on identifying their highest-need and/or highest-cost populations, often families or individuals depending on multiple social services. Granular segmentation analysis cluster individuals and families with shared characteristics. Agencies then develop targeted, insight-driven practice models to solve specific problems for those groups. This fast, flexible approach can change the game for social services, enabling agencies to capture incremental value and make the needed investments within existing budgets.

INTERNET OF ME: Connected Devices Help Agencies Reinvent Services

Online public portals and mobile apps allow citizens to check eligibility for services, apply for and manage benefits and coordinate with agencies and service providers. The convergence of connected devices and digital data from third-party sources can extend possibilities in self service, empowering citizens and improving caseworker effectiveness. This is the Internet of Things, the next generation of mobility. In addition to smartphones and tablets, everyday objects such as wearable devices, cars, and homes are increasingly connected. Data from such devices can expand contextual data so agencies can better serve their clients. This creates a mechanism to tailor social services delivery at scale, providing information and services customized to individual needs.

What if agencies delivered social services based on greater insight from mobile digital sources? The concept of a personal digital profile is common in other industries. In healthcare, electronic medical records can and often do provide a single patient profile, accessible by healthcare teams over time and often across institutional boundaries. Credit card companies use digital profiles to track anomalies in cardholders’ spending patterns to help prevent fraud.

By digitally transmitting and managing customer information from connected devices, with proper security and governance, agencies increase their focus on meeting citizen needs and delivering services proactively. Instead of relying on caseworkers and service beneficiaries to “feed the system,” the system feeds itself. It is insight-driven, making connections and triggering better and more strategic information so agencies can truly advance and innovate in social service delivery.

INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION: Humans and Machines Working Together

Software that learns can dramatically change how social service agencies work, in their allocation of core resources, including time, money and expertise. This is a new frontier of expanding workforce efficiency for the digital age. It is a common sense approach to automating transactional tasks to improve service delivery and lower costs. Caseworkers are freed up for work for which human judgement is essential. Citizens can become more empowered too, spending less time tracking basic services and more time charting their path to self-sufficiency.

What if agencies could determine program eligibility in real time without any caseworker intervention? It is already happening in leading social service agencies, via “no-touch processing.” Case in point: One major U.S. state has streamlined it eligibility determination process using no-touch processing for intake of applications and case creation, relying on state and federally defined program rules to determine eligibility. Citizens can apply online and receive near real-time eligibility determination without worker intervention.

As agencies consider use of intelligent automation, they must gauge their best practical opportunities while in parallel rethinking policy and operational rules and tolerances that may impact multiple facets of the organization.

NEW HORIZONS: Expanding Social Service Possibilities and Outcomes

Analytics, Internet of Things and intelligent automation are social service game changers. To benefit, agencies must plan and invest strategically and be prepared to address broad organizational impacts. Funding mechanisms and approaches must evolve to take advantage of these new tools.

Social service agencies can begin to build a digital foundation for new and more effective ways of operating and delivering on their core mission. The prize comes in the form of a brighter future and new possibilities for self-sufficiency for the citizens being served, arising from more proactive, citizen-centric services with agile, insight-driven operations so agencies make best use of the resources at their disposal while moving up the Health and Human Services Value Curve.

By Debora Morris, Managing Director, Accenture Health and Human Services Growth and Strategy, and Sean Toole, Managing Director, Accenture Human Services.

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