1 minute read 17 Feb 2021
Deliveryman bringing grocery to man

How government can accelerate digital transformation for social protection

By Andrea Danes

EY Americas Government and Public Sector, HHS Strategy Executive Director

Focused on the use of data and technology in support of vulnerable populations. Passion fueled by childhood and role as a foster mom.

1 minute read 17 Feb 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the urgency of accelerating digital transformation for social services into stark focus.

Executive Summary:

  • Urgent need of increasing social services
  • Citizen-centric approach
  • Centralization of digital identity

Our global Human Services team at EY explores the rapid transformation of social services in a broad yet detailed report we hope you’ll check out, Social Services Transformed. In it, we highlight the ongoing evolution of social services, which is exacerbated by the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic have had on our most vulnerable populations. Our report shares insights into social services organizations’ pivot to a citizen-centric approach — one that’s personalized, digital, collaborative and outcomes-driven. In the weeks to come, I’ll feature a series of blog posts that apply a US-specific lens to delve into four aspects of the report:

Here is a brief summary of Social Services Transformed and its insights into the now, next and beyond of social services.


Why is demand increasing?

The need for social services is escalating. But the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are not the sole reason. There are demographic and societal shifts such as rising longevity and increasing urbanization, which constrain the availability of affordable housing, increase the vulnerability of old age and drive demand for adequate health care. The pandemic has caused joblessness and an exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities, and there is an urgent call for employment protection and income support.


Pivoting to a citizen-centric mindset and alternative funding strategies

Across social services, organizations are rethinking how they understand the needs of vulnerable citizens and how they can deliver the services needed most. Placing the individual at the center, entities can offer more accessible and personalized services, with better integration across service providers and the technology they use to store data and to communicate. With government funds strained by COVID-19 relief packages, organizations will also rethink their funding strategies. Social impact investing, with funds flowing to diverse services, is increasingly popular and is occurring against a backdrop of urgent calls for corporate responsibility and sustainable finance. 


 More intuitive service delivery while continuing to close the digital divide

Creating a person-centric model includes better use of available data to identify key changes in life circumstance like the birth of a child, proactively initiating the eligibility process and reducing administrative burden both for government and individuals. Centralization of a digital identity enables government to better understand, plan and manage access to services across programmatic and agency boundaries. 

By linking individuals across organizations, digital IDs can expand and quicken access to services and strengthen social safety nets. However, the sudden progression to digital service delivery during the pandemic has focused attention on the need to close a digital divide that excludes many from receiving services. Remote learning, for example, has meant that many low-income children are at risk of being left behind: even in the US, internet access is not universal. To address these challenges, governments will need to increase investment in broadband infrastructure and digital upskilling, and reinforce accessibility standards. 

This global report showcases the pandemic's impact and how Social Services are transforming as a result.

Download full report


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the urgency of social protection into stark relief. To meet these challenges, governments have been accelerating the digital transformation of social services at speed, reprioritizing their workforces and resources, and finding new ways to deliver services.

While many of these transformations are aimed at immediate relief, providers are also looking toward the future by designing services that are more personalized, digital, collaborative and outcome-driven. 

About this article

By Andrea Danes

EY Americas Government and Public Sector, HHS Strategy Executive Director

Focused on the use of data and technology in support of vulnerable populations. Passion fueled by childhood and role as a foster mom.