Guest blog: ‘Innovative’ or just iterative?

24 Jul 2015, 2:47 pm

JohnMcMahon-ieg4by John McMahon, Product Director, IEG4

Innovation is one of the most overused words in the field of government technology. If one looks at the detail there is a certainly a lot of iteration. Innovation is something entirely different.

But what merits the gold badge of being called a true ‘innovation’? In my opinion, new products can be broadly categorised in two ways:


–       evolutionary = iteration
–       revolutionary = innovation

Great products can have their genesis in either but, in fact, most great products are iterative. Consider a few successful products. Google Search is an iteration of previous search products like ‘Ask Jeeves’. Google’s co-founders simply applied their research to optimise how search works within a super-simple interface, which even ‘silver surfers’ could get.

Facebook is effectively an iteration on the MySpace social network with additional privacy options, younger (initially at least) clientele and a minimalist User Interface.

These products took a revolutionary idea and iterated upon them to make them great.

Innovation is novel, not simply new. It’s an original idea that delivers an entirely new service or conceives a service in a different, better manner. Taking an existing idea and just adding a feature here or there does not make it innovative.

So which products are worthy of the gold badge of ‘innovative’? The iPhone was the first phone that enabled users to interact with their device via touch-screen and an unparalleled user experience. The iPad did everything the iPhone did but in a larger form factor. It was, therefore, iterative.

Within the field of public sector and housing association software there has been plenty of iteration but, like other fields, little innovation. But despite this, some examples of real innovation have shone through, for example:

  • Risk-Based Verification (RBV)
    The most costly element of processing welfare applications is, bar none, the collection of evidence to support an application. Rather than simply allow a citizen to upload it electronically, which would be iterative, RBV took an entirely different and novel approach. By profiling citizens based upon the risk of them providing erroneous or fraudulent information, RBV removed the need to collect evidence on up to 60% of cases and discovered fraudulent claims. The aim is to help reduce the burden on customers to provide excessive levels of evidence and reduce the cost of administering claims by reducing correspondence and scanning of evidence.
  • Digitally enabled multi-agency working
    One of the greatest challenges local and central government face is providing citizens with the services they want in a connected manner. The Data Protection Act (DPA) was created for all of the right reasons but sadly has been used by some as a barrier to deliver better more joined up services. One silo can be scared to share information with another because of the perceived consequences. This is because services are driven from the bottom up by departments rather than being based upon the citizen’s needs.But citizens don’t care which department delivers services they consume, they care that those services are presented to them clearly without having to navigate departmental hierarchy.
  • Digital enabled multi-agency working
    Vital in Health and Social Care services integration multi-agency working means that the service starts with the citizen, so a citizen interacts with a digital service which works out what they want based upon who they are, and notifies the relevant departments. Crucially, because the starting point is the citizen THEY are asked if they want to share their information at the outset and THEY get access to all services they want in one go, in accordance with the DPA.
  • Personalised Citizen Accounts
    Personalised citizen accounts allow a citizen to create an account using their own personal social network eg Facebook. It presents data based upon the most common questions that a person is likely to care about irrespective of the department that delivers it. It understands their circumstances and where they live to contextualise services pertinent to them.It is novel in the public sector space to deliver things in a way that’s ‘All about me’. In local government, citizen accounts have existed for some time but were, sadly, created from the bottom up, by looking at services from legacy back office applications and surfacing that data to citizens.

In an age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and YouTube, mass adoption is driven by a person-centric approach. Digital local government services need to be personalised to the user and cannot take a one size fits all approach.

Organisations could take its cues from the private sector, where mass adoption leads to greater usage and ultimately more sales. In local government this could translate to improved value and greater efficiency. But whatever the method, calling it an ‘innovation’ needs to be merited.

Note: IEG4 provides cutting-edge applications that ensure citizens can best engage the services that government provide on any device; all powered by the cloud.