Disruptive innovation in the public sector

Wearables, Internet of Things, VR — these are just some of the new or emerging technologies that are disrupting markets.  However changes in how people communicate, connect, and consume content are driving an incredible appetite for change in the public sector. One that will define how services are delivered to citizens using the most cost effective, streamlined processes available to reduce overheads and improve outcomes for business models.

The opportunity for technological disruption in the public sector lies in the evolution of citizen & employee behaviour, values, and expectations.  Authorities are faced with a quandary as they invest resources and budgets in maintaining legacy technology that is not always fit for purpose in this changing world, just to maintain the current level of service (business as usual), versus that of the unknown. How will new investments align with current or future thinking and behavioural shifts? How can I make new thinking & innovation work for my particular problem?

Adapt or die!


This could be viewed as digital Darwinism — an era where technology and society are evolving faster than government can naturally adapt or invest. This sets the stage for a new era of disruptive thinking, a new generation of business models, and a whole new way of delivering citizen self-service, charging behind a mantra of “adapt or die.”

Rather than react to change or be disrupted by it, some forward-looking authorities are investing in new technologies to adapt and change their processes. In October 2013, Deloitte published a report studying disruptive innovation in the public sector. In its report, Deloitte found the following catalysts for disruptive innovation…

  • Not a sustaining technology
  • Produced by an autonomous organization
  • Less expensive than traditional technology
  • Maintains cost-competitiveness over time
  • Enabled by a rapidly evolving technology
  • Demonstrated effectiveness in real-world use
  • Avenues created for low-risk innovation

So where is all this going?

It comes down to one word, relevance. If citizen behaviour is really evolving as a result of technology. The public sector will either need to get ahead of it, or have a strategy to at least stay in the game.  One of the most problematic aspects around delivering effective services is that technology is both part of the solution and also part of the problem.

Disruptive technology may sound like it’s something you’d hear in buzzword bingo, but it is one of the most important movements for delivering services today. In its purest form a disruptive innovation is “an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances”.  This thinking is opening doors for new partnerships offering new technology to provide both the innovation required to transform existing services and the cost savings desired to make it viable. It is forcing the public sector to look beyond the world as they know it, observe how things are changing on the outside, to change delivery models, and to reverse engineer their legacy processes in the quest for improvement.


Enter Rocktime…

In 2014, Rocktime set out to better understand the challenges around the public sectors use of technology and how small changes to the market can drive efficiency and cost savings. It is indeed a deep and complex topic. We had to focus our research on one area, licensing. To be precise private rented sector property licensing.  You see, one of the things with property licensing is the application process is both long and complex and usually entrenched in clunky legacy systems, or worse still follows a lengthy paper based process that is both costly and inefficient. Many councils are running multiple schemes and they all have a slightly different interpretation of how a scheme should be implemented and managed, adding both cost and confusion to applicants and process.

Moving to a digital model, whilst offering the clear benefits of greater citizen engagement and vastly reduced costs was not readily considered as the costs of developing such a solution was restrictive in market dominated by three or four major I.T players.  Rocktime did many hard yards of thinking and pondered the questions and issues that where top of mind for licensing officers. The result is that we developed a solution based on feedback and years of development experience. Went to market with a licensing system that changes the game and provides a cost effective solution that competes the same ‘BIG I.T’ space but delivers innovation and cost savings in spades, shaking the tree and truly disrupting the market as we know it. In 2016 it was accepted on to the UK Governments digital marketplace (G-Cloud) and as a business we are now gaining real traction in rolling out the software to councils across the UK.

So what was the experience for us in asking public sector to consider moving away from their legacy processes to manage a vastly complex application process? Was it well received or was it simply too risky for a traditionally risk adverse sector?


Here is what we found on our journey…

  • On the whole we have been greeted with open arms, and a willingness to positively explore new technology and the benefits it can bring.
  • The notion that the public sector can’t innovate or isn’t open to innovation is a complete myth. The way government is opening up and sharing data, and the way .GOV is delivering central government services is testament to this.
  • Digital transformation is quickly becoming a priority for many authorities, and the all-consuming desire for cost savings has forced the sector to a look at all options, including disruptive innovation such as ours.
  • Mapping and understanding the customer experience is becoming critical in guiding innovation, and optimising any online processes.
  • Integration, integration, integration!  There is a genuine desire for joining up processes, sharing data and moving business units to a fully online operating model.
  • Digital IS cheaper than paper.
  • Having a niche product helps keep focus and puts new technology usage in perspective
  • Confidence in new technology is driven partly by technology and costs, but also by the experience and reputation of the supplier.

While early in its evolution, disruptive technology represents the next big innovation, and will ultimately drive how services are delivered. Those authorities that “get it” and invest more in learning about their digital customers’ behaviours, preferences, and expectations will carry a significant advantage over those that try to figure it out later (if at all). In fact, what separates new technology investments from those offered by those delivering an offline experience is the ongoing search to find answers to problems, and a willingness to grasp the opportunities presented by the age of the digital customer.

Those authorities that “get it” and invest more in learning about their digital customers’ behaviours, preferences, and expectations will carry a significant advantage over those that try to figure it out later...

In the end, disruptive technology is not a fad or a trendy moniker. It represents the future for innovation of public sector services through the re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology to more effectively engage digital consumers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle. And it’s not alone, Social media, mobile, cloud, et al. are all converging into a greater force to push digital development out of comfort zones and into areas where true innovation can manifest.

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