What the ‘omni-channel’ citizen will expect

The retail sector has shown that consumers want a seamless, consistent experience both online and off. Find out how the Canadian government is already putting a plan in place

You’ve probably heard the word “omni-channel” being bandied about lately — it’s the latest buzzword that describes the ability of consumers to buy goods and services through multiple delivery channels and have the same seamless experience across all of them.

This means buying something over your mobile phone will offer the same experience as buying it online or in-store. While it does sound a bit like searching for the elusive Holy Grail, it’s also inevitable — and retailers who don’t move in that direction will be left in their competitors’ dust.

According to a recent report by Retail Systems Research, “Omni-Channel 2013: The Long Road to Adoption,” there is an undeniable trend toward more complex paths to purchase that blend the digital shopping experience with the physical one. Essentially, consumers don’t see “channels,” says RSR. Either retailers address their lifestyle needs or they don’t.

But what about government? As citizens gravitate toward the omni-channel in other areas of their life, they’re going to expect to interact with the public sector in the same way.

Over the years (particularly back in the days when “e-government” was a buzzword), the public sector has struggled to integrate data across departments and various levels of government. Add mobile, cloud and social media to the mix, and the world just got a whole lot more complicated.

But, despite the massive effort required to develop an omni-channel for citizens, it’s something government should prioritize and plan for. Consider this: According to Ipsos Reid in its latest Mobil-ology study of the mobile market in Canada, 47 per cent of Canadians are now using a smartphone, up from 34 per cent the previous year. And tablet device use has jumped from 10 to 21 per cent over the same period.

The way citizens engage with government is changing. But government, as we know, has its own unique challenges and constraints. It tends to be risk-averse, with the need for oversight and transparency (which, of course, is a good thing). And deficit reduction is always top of mind.

Our government does, fortunately, recognize the need to innovate, despite these constraints. In a recent speech to public servants, Wayne Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, asked for input into a new government initiative called Blueprint 2020 — an open and networked environment that engages citizens and partners.

Blueprint 2020 involves what he calls a “whole-of-government” approach and a workplace that makes smart use of technologies to improve networking, access to data and customer services, as well as a workforce that embraces new ways of working.

The benefits of an omni-channel may seem obvious in a retail context, but why is it so important for government? After all, it’s not like the public sector has competitors.

But think about what would be possible if we broke down all those silos, about how much more efficient government services would be. And think about how streamlined delivery channels — from self-service to real-time chat — would improve citizen interactions with government (and reduce duplication, errors and endless amounts of frustration).

Down the road, these efficiencies could save taxpayer money, but they could also drive citizen engagement, improve collaboration among government workers and even attract younger generations into the public sector.

It’s a massive undertaking. It probably means updating infrastructure and skills sets. And, most importantly, it will need top-down support to get off the ground. But, ultimately, it’s about putting citizens first and making government truly more responsive to the public that it serves.

Learn how any organization, public sector or otherwise, can Transform IT Trends Into Positive Business Outcomes by visiting Allstream’s resource centre featuring content from Gartner Inc. 

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