The shift toward digital self-service across public services is increasingly a priority for leaders in government agencies. Whether it’s social care, revenue and tax collection, housing or healthcare services, agencies are further relying on digital services to address growing community need and to alleviate the burden on frontline staff.

Overall, people welcome this shift to digital channels, favoring the speed and convenience applications can offer and avoiding long wait times on the phone with contact centers or repeated (and often expensive) trips to physical locations.

However, it’s clear government agencies have not been able to meet higher consumer expectations fueled by private sector innovation. Our latest research, The App Attention Index 2023: Beware the Application Generation, finds a huge number of consumers have experienced performance issues when using applications to access public services over the last 12 months. And as a result, people are increasingly questioning the value of digital services and becoming more inclined to revert to traditional communication channels, primarily phone and face-to-face interactions.

The Application Generation

This is particularly true for a new cohort of people ages 18-34: The Application Generation. Our research reveals how attitudes and behaviors towards digital services have evolved differently for this group, who have relied on applications to get them through the pandemic - for their education, to start their careers, and to stay close to friends - and now they’re using them to live, work and play in a hybrid world. They want every digital experience to enrich their lives, but when applications let them down, these younger users react intensely.

This potential backlash against poorly performing digital services represents a big risk for public agencies. Rather than increasing scale and efficiency through digital channels, there is a danger they could start seeing a decline in the use of these services. In response, public sector leaders need to ensure their IT teams have the tools and insights required to optimize application availability, performance and security at all times.

Our research finds the Application Generation are the heaviest users of digital services, with 77% of people now use at least one application or digital service to access government services. While appetites for digital services are growing, so are people’s expectations around the experience they have.

Consumers of all ages have become far more sophisticated and discerning, having exposure to the very best, most intuitive and personalized digital experiences. They’ve seen what is possible and they see no reason why they shouldn’t have the same exceptional experience every time they use an application - whether it’s for their grocery shopping, to stream movies or to access public services. Sixty-four percent of consumers report they are now less forgiving of poor digital services than they were 12 months ago and 55% state they feel disappointed when they encounter a performance issue when using an application.

In other sectors, such as retail, entertainment and travel, consumers are increasingly deleting applications that let them down and switching to other providers, but there is no alternative offering for public services. This doesn’t mean the governments should deny the value of engaging with constituents through digital channels.

Our research highlights how poor digital experiences could push people to favor in-person and phone interactions, increasing the burden on staff during ongoing workforce concerns.

Access issues

These findings should be concerning for public sector leaders. As many as 75% of the Application Generation report they’re encountering problems when using apps to access public services and are warning that unless they receive seamless and secure digital experiences, they’ll ditch applications and return to offline channels. Agencies should act fast, otherwise they are in danger of jeopardizing digital transformation initiatives and failing to meet any ambitions for self-service.

However, as almost all public sector technologists will admit, managing application availability, performance and security is becoming increasingly difficult each day. Rising deployment of cloud native technologies means many IT teams now find themselves trying to manage a highly complex and distributed application landscape, but without adequate visibility and insights to detect and resolve performance issues before they impact end users.

Application observability is a solution to this growing challenge, providing IT teams with full and unified visibility across hybrid environments. Technologists can quickly identify issues and understand root causes, resulting in faster resolution. Additionally, by correlating application availability, performance and security data with key business metrics, application observability enables IT teams to prioritize those issues which present the greatest threat.

IT teams should put application performance and security at the heart of their plans for digital self-service and ensure that their teams are equipped to provide citizens with the exceptional digital experiences they value so highly.

Gregg Ostrowski is CTO Advisor at Cisco Observability.

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