August 9, 2012 by Jim Morton
This is the fifth of eight blog posts which will describe our general principles for ICT; these are the major ideas that underpin our formal strategy documents and will influence our decision making in the coming years. For a list of all of the principles see this previous post.
“We will provide everyone with their own tailored experience of our services and information. We will support personal data stores.”
WHAT IS IT?
The idea of a computer that can converse with you on a personal level, understand exactly what you want and do stuff for you like some kind of hyper-efficient, digital Jeeves, has been been around for ages.
Science fiction is full of these sentient electronic assistants, although not always without the occasional flaw. One minute it’s all “Hello Dave”, “How are you?” and, “Let’s have a game of chess”, the next minute they are killing your crew-mates off one by one and completely refusing to open the pod bay doors.
This kind of conscious artificial intelligence is still some way off – but the degree to which a computer or application can understand who you are and act accordingly has increased rapidly in recent years.
The time was when we were all wowed with video games asking for our name at the start – so that the occasional customised dialogue box would pop up and say something immersive like:
“Congratulations to you ….JIM…… you have found the ancient sword and vanquished the evil dragon. PLAY AGAIN Y/N”.
These days no one is remotely impressed with such basic stuff, we want our phone to be able to help us live out a kooky existence, involving tomato soup, without doing anything more complicated than talking to it…
Despite what the marketing might imply there is still no human-like, electronic butler at play here – but the ability to clearly understand an individual’s requirements and instant access to lots of cleverly organised information means that it is possible to provide distinctly personalised services.
The more information that a service has about you, the more personal and targeted their interactions with you can become. Theoretically this leads to more accurate, tailored and useful services, although exactly who this is useful for probably depend on the nature of the service.
You might love the fact that you can instantly get updated on exactly which pub your mates are in, or that it is your sister’s birthday tomorrow via your favourite social networking service. You might be less happy when you are constantly bombarded with adverts of a somewhat dubious nature because they know you are a single man, or when Amazon won’t stop sending you details of the latest offers from their romantic novels section because you bought your gran a Mills and Boon birthday present eight years ago.
This double-edged nature of the relationship that we all have with personalised web services is only going to get more thorny in the coming years as our privacy concerns compete with the desire to take advantage of new and useful services.
One potential solution is the adoption of personal data stores – third party repositories that store information on your behalf and allow you decide exactly what you will share with different services. Only you have the ability to change the information held within your store, and decide who you do or don’t share it with – a bit like a safety deposit box for your digital identity.
WHY DO WE WANT TO DO THIS?
A local authority like Warwickshire is a large organisation providing many, wildly varying, services. While we have used the communication technologies like telephony in our customer service centre, or our web site to help alleviate the complexity of dealing with us, personalisation offers opportunities to be more helpful and pro-active in working with our customers.
If we have a clear understanding of a new customer’s circumstances and needs we will be able quickly provide access to the most relevant and helpful information and services. With more information available it will be possible to automate and speed up any services that require a process such as an assessment to be carried out.
Once you are a customer of WCC we will be able to provide a personalised view of all the services that you receive or information that you are interested in, just as you would with any commercial organisation that you purchase goods and services from, or browse via your social networking identity.
Realising such personalisation requires a standardised and highly organised ICT and information architecture behind the scenes in order to match identity details to precisely the right information and systems. Building this architecture is the main focus of our Applications Strategy, while the work to move to a deeper and more useful understanding of our staff and customers electronic identities is a driving force behind our Identity, Access and Security Strategy most notably the key strategic aim “We will use identity to both improve and secure the user experience”.