Public human services in the 21st century

Governments around the world provide human services, i.e. welfare and social security benefits in a variety of ways. But globally, businesses and taxpayers are now expecting a level of service similar to that of the private sector. How can these expectations be met? Noor Azlin Zainal Abidin, a partner with Accenture's government practice, shares her views on recent developments. 

Scenario 1 – Now 

AIDA is a Malaysian single mother with three young children. Recently retrenched, Aida relies on welfare assistance from the State Department of Social Welfare. Meanwhile, Aida wants to improve her technical skills and has applied for a vocational and technical training loan under the Skills Development Fund of the Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR). Here, she has also registered with the MOHR’s Electronic Labour Exchange (ELX) to see if she can be matched with potential job opportunities.  

Besides that, one of her daughters has just started Standard One. To ease her financial burden, Aida has applied for aid from the Ministry of Education (MOE) via the school her child is in.  

Noor Azlin Zainal Abidin

This scenario is a common depiction of a single mother striving to fend for herself and her family. As public human services support from the government is not holistically provided, applicants have to hop from one agency to another in order to apply for different forms of social aid.  

Public human services include not only financial support for the needy but also cover health services, social security services, education services, pension or employee provident funds, children welfare, elderly care, employment support as well as housing. All these constitute the basic social needs that should be accessible to citizens in the country.  

However, as the different types of services are not housed under a single government agency and information on aid recipients is not openly shared, the public has to go through much bureaucratic red tape.  

Moreover, officers assigned in these departments are subjected to overlapping tasks. For example, obtaining the same personal information, carrying out similar interviews and conducting parallel background research and verifications with other government agencies.  

These redundancies are occurring not only in Malaysia, but also around the globe. As a result, the following common challenges have emerged:  

·Overlapping and disparate systems: Work processes and the supporting technology systems in different agencies are constantly conducting the same tasks and storing information in overlapping databases. Furthermore, these systems are not interconnected between agencies, resulting in disparate systems.  

l Communication problems between organisations/government agencies: Because of the need to conduct cross-verifications and collaborate with other government agencies, miscommunication is bound to occur. For example, when key information is passed on to another agency, it is re-entered into different systems, which increases the margin for error.  

·Lack of coordination with other departments: Most government officers are only trained for their job scope and the vertical accountability in individual departments. It is rare for them to be educated on the roles of other departments or agencies that are integral to the background research of an aid application. This shortcoming has led to the lack of coordination between agencies. 


Scenario 2: In the near future 

Aida approaches the State Department of Social Welfare to seek financial aid for her child’s education. Sarah, the case worker, carefully probes Aida on the various forms of aid required, and documents her case. Using her broad knowledge of different departments, Sarah enters the information to her computer and simultaneously “delegates” the required information to the relevant departments, i.e. MOE’s various aid programmes and MOHR’s ELX and Skills Development Fund.  

The system interconnectivity between the State Department of Social Welfare and the other government agencies allows key information to be transmitted to the departments concerned. Here, these cases are reviewed, prioritised and assigned to the respective case workers.  

Samad, a MOHR case worker, logs in and goes through his list of case assignments. He sees that Aida is a “high priority” case and accesses the information captured by Sarah. Samad studies Aida’s background, evaluates her situation and registers her into the ELX. Aida is then duly updated on her registration and possible job interviews.  

Scenario 2 is already happening in countries that have implemented initiatives such as the enterprise service delivery and enterprise performance programmes.  

The enterprise service delivery initiative allows information to be captured and shared between various departments/agencies. Consequently, confusion and duplication is minimised when multiple agencies serve the same clients. All this can be achieved without investments into new systems but rather, to the existing systems.  

On the local front, one of our ministries has already implemented parts of the enterprise service delivery. The ministry’s initiatives are aimed at gathering information to form a more holistic view of customers and better understand their needs. This is done using a database that consolidates data from various federal and state agencies.  

The enterprise performance programme combines training operations across agencies for case workers to foster a common sense of purpose, new interpersonal relationships and a better view of the “big picture”.  


Looking beyond technology 

Aida is one of thousands who will benefit tremendously from the effective use of these technology-based tools. By successfully addressing the challenge of streamlining public human services, the government can reach out to a wider group of needy citizens with a higher level of service quality.  

For example, the New Zealand Department of Child, Youth and Family, is able to track the progress of some 220,000 children and respond to about 25,000 notifications of suspected abuse and neglect each year. The department can now gather invaluable sociological information for better policy planning and research.  

One final point to keep in mind is the staff motivational factor in public human services. It is imperative that frontline workers are always appreciated and remembered. It’s their passion to serve the nation’s needs that will drive the development of this sector.  


o Noor Azlin Zainal Abidin can be contacted at 

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