Located on the Arabian Peninsula, the State of Qatar is building an open, integrated and extendable platform of national services on Microsoft Azure to transform how government-run agencies operate and improve the quality of life for Qatar’s citizens, residents, businesses and visitors. Powered by innovative technologies such as the cloud, artificial intelligence and digital twins, the TASMU Platform is enabling the state to offer virtual healthcare consultations, national food security, smart parking, and many other personalised services.
Qatar is just one of many governments exploring how they use digital technologies to transform how they deliver services for both citizens and employees.
“Citizens are looking for more personalised and convenient services that are available online or through mobile applications,” says Angie Heise, corporate vice president for the worldwide public sector at Microsoft. “In addition, they want accessible services which are more transparent and responsive to their needs and are delivered in a timely and efficient manner. Plus, they are seeking innovative and sustainable solutions to help address the complex challenges facing their communities.”
Many public sector organisations have embarked on digital transformations to modernise services but are typically hindered by limited resources, complex regulatory environments and outdated legacy systems.
“These challenges can make it difficult for organisations to keep up with the pace of technological change and provide the level of service citizens expect,” says Heise. “Organisations may also face difficulties in attracting and retaining employees with the skills needed to implement modern technologies and processes. Embracing digital transformation to improve public sector services requires an innovative approach with an investment of resources, cross-agency collaboration and technology skilling.”
Heise recommends that organisations adopt a holistic, long-term planning strategy to ensure they are investing in the right areas. “Such a strategy can help organisations build the capacity and expertise needed to implement new technologies and processes,” she explains. “By better understanding the needs and preferences of citizens, organisations can drive more personalised and responsive services, and identify and address the causes of a problem, rather than just treating the symptoms.”
Organisations need high-quality data to do this. “Data is the lifeblood of public sector digital transformation,” says Heise. “Many of the forward-looking use cases are founded on the insights we can glean from analytics running on the rich data the public sector collects about society. For example, these analytics could be used for creating environmental models, forecasting land use or resource planning allocations. We’re seeing an explosion of analytic capability brought to the hyperscale cloud, including AI.”
In the UK, for instance, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is using various Microsoft Azure solutions to capture data from multiple transport systems, which citizens use to make more than 5.6 million journeys daily. The system enables TfGM to quickly respond to service issues, monitor traffic flow over a more than 400-mile key route network, co-develop policies to reduce congestion, and more. The data has also shaped TfGM’s 2040 Transport Strategy, which addresses the transport network’s long-term needs.
“One exciting aspect of these data-centric innovations is they are becoming more self-service,” says Heise. “Whereas the previous generation of data analytics could require teams of specialists, access to specialised hardware, and significant timeframes and budgets, the new generation leverages pre-trained algorithms and foundational models to allow for reusable algorithms, citizen analytics and enquiries into data driven by natural language processing.”
According to Heise, organisations should prioritise moving their data to the cloud in order to take advantage of next-generation analytics techniques.
“The cloud can offer agility and flexibility, advanced cybersecurity features and access to the latest innovations, including AI, to accelerate digital transformation and the delivery of essential public services,” says Heise, citing the State of Michigan Office of Children’s Ombudsman’s (MiOCO) use of i-Sight case management on Microsoft Azure for US Government as a good example.
MiOCO deployed the cloud-based solution to centralise case management and enhance efficiency, productivity, collaboration and security when investigating complaints about the Michigan child welfare system. This has enabled MiOCO’s small team to easily handle the growing case load – which has doubled annually for the past several years – without hiring multiple new staff members.
Organisations may also benefit from investing in low-code and no-code platforms that enable employees with minimal, or non-existent, coding skills to work with data easily. For instance, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs in the USA used Microsoft Power Pages to rapidly build and deploy six online portals that are used for helping citizens apply for financial assistance, supporting local municipalities with licencing, fire code enforcement, budget reporting, and much more.
“These environments allow a much broader cross-section of public sector staff to interrogate and investigate data themselves, rather than waiting for specialists who are in high demand,” says Heise. “These technologies can help to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of delivery, enable more personalised and responsive services, and support more sustainable and innovative solutions.”
Microsoft technology can also empower governments to overcome one of their biggest challenges when developing digital services: protecting citizens’ data.
Working with Microsoft gives governments access to a “unique global cybersecurity periphery” informed by 65 trillion security signals daily and operated by over 8,500 security experts. In 2022 alone, Microsoft’s experts and technology protected customers’ digital assets by blocking more than 70 billion email and identity threats, 2,000 distributed denial-of-service attacks, and preventing over 900 password attacks per second.
For example, Microsoft's experts and technology empowered the Albanian National Agency for Information Society (AKSHI) to rapidly halt a double-pronged nation state attack on the Government of Albania before it caused widespread damage. This enabled AKSHI to bring back 1,118 e-services in just three days. Now, it has 24/7 automated monitoring, detection and response capabilities to safeguard the government from future cyberattacks.
“As the world’s largest security provider, Microsoft prides itself as being the global cyber defender of our customers’ digital ecosystems, protecting them from nation state-sponsored attacks and cybercriminals alike,” says Heise. “We continue to innovate to stay ahead of cybercriminals and over the next five years, we will invest over $20 billion in AI-based security solutions, such as Security Copilot .”
Currently in the pilot phase, Security Copilot leverages generative AI and insights from Microsoft Sentinel, Defender and Intune to detect hidden threat patterns, harden defences and expedite incident response. “It will allow public sector customers to synthesise data from multiple sources into clear, actionable insights, surface threats early, triage signals at machine speed and get predictive guidance to help them thwart an attacker’s next move,” says Heise. “This will enable them to respond to incidents within minutes instead of hours or days.”
Security Copilot will help to reduce the cybersecurity talent gap too. “The demand for skilled defenders vastly exceeds the supply, especially in public sector environments where organisations are competing for talent against better paying private sector companies,” says Heise. “We can help our public sector customers make the most impact and build their skills with step-by-step instructions for mitigating risks.”
While technology is a pivotal part of any digital transformation, public sector organisations must go beyond simply making technical changes to ensure their new services are accessible to all.
“Inclusive design and technology choices, such as web pages that work with screen readers and captions on videos, are a baseline that must become the norm for governments building digital services,” says Heise.
Governments must also implement policies and workforce training to promote accessibility and make it easy for underserved populations to use digital services. “Governments recognise the importance of connectivity and devices, but they also need to build technologies that work well regardless of bandwidth and device speed,” says Heise. “Plus, they must tell citizens what services exist and how to access them.
“Success is based on more than just the technology. It requires a clear vision, collaboration, buy-in at all levels, and a modern approach to IT. When we bring that together, digital transformation doesn’t just change the technology; it changes the way we work for the better.”
We asked selected partners how they are using Microsoft technology to help public sector organisations deliver better citizen services.
“Digital technology is redefining the relationship between governments and their citizens,” says Prashansa Srivastava, consultant at Infosys. “Infosys helps government agencies to deliver simplified, accessible, secure services to citizens through our purpose-built solutions, such as Infosys Council In a Box, REF-OR-M Citizen Safety, and Provider Management.”
“Schneider Electric and Microsoft provide a dynamic, connected platform for public sector organisations,” says Yasser Ahmed, director of digital buildings and software for the Middle East and Africa at Schneider Electric. “In early 2023, we joined forces with Microsoft and Emirates Health Services to launch EcoStruxure for Healthcare – a digital twin solution designed to increase healthcare operational performance and improve energy efficiency for hospitals in the Middle East and Africa region.”
Read more from these partners in the Summer 2023 issue of Technology Record.