From Kaizen to Chatbots: 2017 Predictions
Here are a few things we hope (and believe) we’ll see for the organization and online presence of the Government of Canada in 2017.
From chaos to calm
In a world where technology is finding more ways to fit more into less, we continuously find that we are running out of time, and worrying about it more. I predict a shift in which people will be searching for new ways in which work can be done that maximizes work done, while not necessarily increasing the amount of effort exerted. A Japanese term, ‘Kaizen’, when broken down means a calm change. It has been applied to Lean practices to describe a strategy where employees at all levels of a company or department work together to achieve continuous improvements to their processes. Resources collectively pool their talents to create a team that learns from each other, humanizing the way we work, and improving the end product/service. Many are fearful of change, but this Lean practice has been proven to bring calm to the chaos.
Imagine applying for a government student job via text message, or scanning an item at a market in Bangkok, and finding out immediately if you are allowed to bring it back through Canadian customs. My 2017 prediction is that chatbots will be the “disruptive technology” we see emerging this year in the public sector.
Chatbots are software programs that combine machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to provide responses to questions through text or speech. The rise in popularity of messaging apps, such as Facebook messenger and Slack, and improvements to the algorithms of voice services such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, means governments should start exploring chatbots as another way to connect vital information to citizens in need.
“Conversation as platform”, as the Singaporean government has dubbed this approach, will provide opportunities to tap into the vast stores of information that the government has in a lean, accessible way. It will also provide new UX challenges as the ideal implementations and best practices are still being codified.
Interesting case studies already exist though, including “the world’s first robot lawyer”, the donotpay bot which was originally created to help Londoners appeal parking tickets. This bot lets users know what steps to take, including filling in the appropriate forms and starting the process for them. The state government of North Carolina is exploring using chatbots inside the organization to help government employees quickly find the answers they are looking for. Back in London, the council of Enfield, has launched a personal assistant chatbot to help local residents find city services.
Chatbots, and the growing availability of DIY chatbot software, also provide an effective method to prototype and uncover ideal service interactions, as it distills the relationship between user and provider. Prototyping a chatbot forces the creators to focus on “plain language” or conversational approaches, and in order to be successful, requires a deep understanding of both the client’s needs and the ideal service scenarios.
A Lean Approach to Organizational Design
We’re all guilty of this – paying lip service to Organizational Design (OD) techniques, only to revert to the more common practice of shifting boxes on paper and then re-structuring based on immediate pressures, personality types, and classification limitations.
In 2017, we predict that government departments will take a longer view to organizational design and planning, and will employ systematic approaches to complement engagement techniques. In turn, the processes will bear out the empirical evidence to support strategic decision-making in organizational design options. Systemscope will continue to use traditional RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrices to assist departments in tackling organizational overlaps and gaps at the functional level. However, we will begin to employ Lean-based techniques to address deficiencies at the process level as well.
One Lean technique, borne out of the manufacturing sector, is the use of a SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, Clients) model which portrays a process-based landscape, overlaid on the functional construct of the organization. We’ve adapted this model to identify overlaps and gaps at a process-based level, and foster the necessary dialogue with managers and executives on appropriate, future state organizational design options to remedy them. Leveraging our analytical findings, this dialogue helps to test and validate subjective pain-points and opportunities. In the end, GC leaders can feel confident that their desired organizational state direction is based on strong methodology and evidence, not just anecdotes and “gut feel”.
FAQs to become obsolete as a content type
As blinking text and scrolling monkeys blessedly have fallen out of favour on the web, so too will a common content convention: the Frequently Asked Questions.
Yes, sad but true. As departments embrace the importance of user task completion, do regular card sorting and tree testing and write plain language content, in 2017 they will largely come to regard FAQs as a content type not worth loving, let alone encouraging programs to spend time on them.
Why? FAQs were meant to solve people’s real problems, not invent them. Landing on a FAQ to only find out-of-date, incomplete, duplicated and incomprehensible content frustrates users and reduces credibility for the organization. Worst of all is to put a fake FAQ in front of your audience. It has all the sincerity of a regift of last year’s mouldy fruitcake.
More web teams in the federal government have recognized they don’t have the resources to actively manage their FAQs. For them, properly defining tasks, writing clear, direct content and implementing tested solutions will be a far better investment of their time and resources.
Less is more
There is a fine line between prognostication and advocacy. I may really want something to happen, so I think it will.
Well, I really want there to be less content on the Government of Canada’s websites and Intranets. And I think there will be less content, as departments realize the costs (each page means more management; more content means more confusion for users).
And I predict that 2017 will be really good year for less content. A large number of departmental websites will migrate their information into Canada.ca – a theme and subject based structure that makes duplication and redundancy more obvious.
I even have some direct cause for hope. Recently I was involved in “on-boarding” information from a range of Government websites. We began with a web crawl of 50,000 pages. Before onboarding, we were able to remove thousands, including some FAQs. My colleague Denise will be happy!
Denis Barbeau is a Systemscope Partner and engineer with more than 15 years of experience helping public sector clients to successfully address significant organizational and business challenges. As the Practice Lead for Strategic Business Consulting, Denis’ experience and specializations include business planning and transformation, organizational redesign, governance and integrated process management. Denis’ broad experience in the public and private sectors, coupled with excellent communication skills, allows him to leverage best practices for a wide variety of organizations and propose achievable solutions for the benefit of his clients. In 2008, Denis was named one of the National Capital Region’s Forty under 40 by the Ottawa Business Journal. The awards recognize business people under the age of 40 for their career accomplishments, professional expertise and community and charitable involvement