The need to consumerise the public sector – and how to get there

Thirty years ago, the workplace had the coolest tech, fastest internet connection, and biggest bandwidth. Businesses stood at the forefront of technical innovation, which then trickled down to customers.

Today, it’s the opposite.

The best modern technology is reserved for our personal life. We order Ubers in one click, groceries are delivered to our door in 30 minutes, and our health is tracked on our wrist.

With two thirds of government spending going on public services, citizen expectations are high. And yet, public service workers frequently arrive at work to find legacy technology that just can’t keep up.

It goes without saying that without the right tools, our public services simply can’t provide the best possible services to citizens.

So, what needs to change to ensure that society runs as smoothly as possible?

The need for ‘consumerisation’

The concerns we’re hearing at ground level from employees revolve around two things: speed and execution.

Failure on either or both measures result in sub-optimal services; long waits for hospital procedures, clunky paper-based processes, or delays to important applications. These ultimately leave citizens unsatisfied and public sector employees frustrated.

A PublicTechnologyResearch study revealed more than one in six government services put up for assessment failed to meet standards, and the most common point on which these services failed was against ‘the requirement to understand user needs’.

For the sake of our society, we need to ensure our public service can get jobs done quickly, and correctly.

However, we don’t know what the future holds, so it’s important that services are agile enough to cope with whatever is thrown at them, whether a sudden shift to remote working, brand new legislation or other.

So, how do we get to a point where things can run smoothly? The answer lies in the ‘consumerisation’ of the public sector. 

Chances are, as a consumer, you’ve come to expect impeccable service and delivery as standard. Even just ordering Deliveroo, you can see exactly where drivers are, where they’re travelling, and when they’ll be at your door.

These expectations of technology are great, and they should be the norm (not just for our takeaways, but for our public service too).

BCG found almost half (44%) of respondents agreed with this, stating they want the quality of government services to match those offered by the best private sector institutions.

What’s more, there are already a host of successful examples of ‘consumer’ style thinking making things easier.  

When ‘self check-in’ was announced by airlines, nobody was sure that it would take off (pun intended). The concern was, adding an extra ‘DIY’ step would be too much for consumers and they’d be reluctant to take on additional responsibility.

However, the majority of us now consider this much more efficient. Whether it’s self check-in at the airport, self check-out at grocery stores, or apps to track purchases, consumerisation improves processes, satisfying our growing desire to get things done quicker.

How do we make this a reality?

To really achieve consumerisation, the public sector must level up services to achieve parity with the private sector, and the way to do that is twofold.

Firstly, they’ll need to focus on bespoke experiences, the best examples of which (Fitbit health tracking, online banking, etc.) all rely on customer data.

One obstacle standing in the way of this is a lack of trust.

We know that the public can be hesitant to hand over their data to the public sector. So, organisations must be willing to work to build a better relationship with citizens, but how exactly do they do that?

It’s largely about extensive communication - detailing why they need their data, how they’ll be using it, and what benefits citizens can expect to receive in return.

Think of citizens as consumers: they’ll need to see value in what you’re offering straight away in order to ‘buy’ it. This means a clear GDPR policy, a coherent data manifesto, and above all, complete and ongoing transparency.

Once secured, data can be used to streamline processes, and provide a more bespoke, practical service.

Medical data can be quickly shared between GP practices, hospitals or other services using sophisticated apps, government records (driving license applications, birth certificates etc.) can be stored digitally, allowing for easier, more convenient access by citizens and civil servants alike.

The second area of focus: Management.

Leadership must improve the technology their employees use, and invest in training, so that they’re equipped to make the most of these data sharing capabilities.

We’re also facing the additional challenge of hybrid working, in a traditionally office-based industry. Technology upgraded and streamlined to allow for a more blended customer/employee experience, and easier modern working in the public sector.

The future of consumerism

We can (and should) apply a consumer approach to the public sector.

Yes, it’s a big investment. But the benefits of making it far outweigh the alternative - doing nothing.

The industry tackles the most important issues today, yet when it comes to technology and support to ensure that employees are doing the best they possibly can in a hybrid world, we’re failing.

We’ve got to help the public sector, it helps all of us.

To find out how ServiceNow can support and enable digital transformation in your organisation, contact:

T: 0800 640 8049



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