Proof of concepts a way forward to achieving effective citizen engagement

By Tim West, Global SAP Hybris Practice Leader on

Attending the FST Government New Zealand conference in Wellington recently, it was heartening to hear the progress New Zealand public sector organisations are making towards digitisation and better citizen engagement.

The government’s directive to move to a “digital first” engagement model is progressing well with 60% of all transactions now being done digitally. The Minister for Science and Innovation, Paul Goldsmith, issued a new target at the conference, aiming to have 80% of all transactions digital by 2020.

The benefits of greater citizen engagement

All the representatives present were ‘on the bus’, fully cognisant of the benefits greater citizen engagement can provide, and aware of the need to embrace digital technologies to achieve them.

The Minister celebrated the progress that had been made, which when compared to many other parts of the world sees New Zealand ahead of the pack. Even better was the level of understanding amongst attendees about the issues currently limiting faster citizen engagement adoption.

Barriers to better citizen engagement

One of the barriers to better citizen engagement – and a hot topic of conversation during the panel discussions – are the government’s ITC procurement processes. When an organisation decides to adopt digital processing, it often requires the purchase of new and unfamiliar technology.

Many of the conference delegates pointed out that a lack of knowledge about the capabilities of the new technologies, combined with a formal, inflexible procurement process can limit innovation adoption and longer-term return on investment.

According to attendees, in a typical procurement process an organisation issues an RFP with a list of requirements. Vendors respond to the RFP and their offerings are evaluated against the list. The organisation then makes a choice, contracts with the preferred supplier, and the system is designed and implemented. So far, so simple.

The problem with this approach is its lack of flexibility, and the fact that it doesn’t align with the modern, iterative approach to innovation.

Technology to leverage citizen engagement

When organisations go looking for better technology to leverage citizen engagement they often don’t know what they don’t know. The technology they are assessing is unfamiliar. The features it offers appear ‘fit for purpose’, but requirements often shift as a project develops.

Will the solution have the capability to service any new requirements that arise?

Also, the technology may offer capabilities that the organisation has failed to understand. It may have the potential to positively impact other business processes beyond the scope of the current defined procurement. Many delegates said current procurement processes don’t accommodate uncertainty, or any tactical changes of direction.

Are proof of concepts a more iterative way of adopting technology?

One of the ways around this is with proof of concepts (POCs) – a more iterative way of adopting technology. Running a POC gives an organisation the chance to properly evaluate the technology/solution they are considering, giving them time to gauge its appropriateness prior to undertaking a full-scale implementation.

They allow agencies to test an idea and evaluate whether the approach will deliver the right outcomes. If it doesn’t, the organisation then has the chance to say, ‘No, let’s not adopt the solution. Let’s the change the technology, look at another alternative, or think of another way of achieving our desired outcome’.

Once a POC evaluation has been undertaken it then allows the organisation to run a much more informed procurement process. It has more information about what it can realistically achieve and what the technology can do.

‘Try before you buy’ is a great way for a public sector organisation to bottom out its own requirements, better understand the capabilities of the technology, and assess the impacts – positive or negative – of its adoption across the organisation.

Having the runway to explore things – and the backing to kill them off it they don’t work without being accused of wasting money – is key. It was encouraging to hear the managers responsible for procurement coming out in support of this approach.

They also suggested that the technology adoption process could become more benefits based if organisations simply had to state their desired strategic outcome at the outset, and then let vendors pitch their projects. Both approaches, I believe would pave a much better path to achieving business agility and real innovation around citizen engagement.

Want more?

If you would like to hear more about Oxygen’s citizen engagement solutions, please don’t hesitate to contact us below or email

More information on the SAP Hybris Solution Brief for Public Sector for omni-channel citizen engagement

Download the 'Serving a new generation of citizens' whitepaper to explore the unique pressures Public Services organizations are under to make the way they deliver services to citizens more accessible and convenient by offering the same consumer-grade experience that users typically encounter.