Industry voice: Council places itself on course for six-year savings programme with Microsoft Dynamics at core of new digital platform
The NHS and local government are feeling a similar type of pain. Financial resources are not keeping up with the demands on their services, and the need for long term cost cuts are high up the agenda for both.
They could also learn lessons from each other. The London Borough of Enfield has laid the ground for significant savings, stretching into the next decade, with a change in approach for its digital operations. It has made a difference for the council in a way that could make a difference for a healthcare organisation.
Enfield has had a sharp eye on the bottom line with its transformation plans. In 2014 it set out to save £29 million up to 2020, following a consultancy exercise that led to recommendations that are often heard in the public sector – make better use of digital technology, move to cloud systems and break down the information silos with a major restructure.
Two years later it is close to completing the restructuring, and according to Rocco Labellarte, the council’s interim assistant IT director, is on course to hit the savings target by the end of the decade.
“We’ve been able to achieve that because previously the organisation was built on a paradigm of inefficiency, not wilfully but through old ways of doing things, and by changing things they have dealt with it,” he says.
Those changes have involved an extensive restructuring of the IT estate, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM providing the single core for customer interactions.
Enfield has used it as a platform for creating a new citizen account, linked with its website to provide itself with a single view of the citizen, and to give the citizen a single view of their dealings with the council.
It has been able open up the account solution provided by Dynamics to internal customer services staff, with an ‘On behalf of’ function they could authorise actions, and design a data model around the activities that were important to measure, such as response times to service requests and spending.
“If you talk digital, and about what people want to do, it’s about having access to anything, anytime, anywhere, whether it’s about a complaint, or paying council tax – all commercial businesses do that through a customer account,” Labellarte says. “So our focus has been on using the Dynamics platform to create that customer account then build a single view for the customer, and for us of the customer.”
Alongside this the council has consolidated the use of Office 365 as its day-to-day productivity tool, giving employees access to the range of applications – such as Word, Excel, Skype for Business and SharePoint – that fulfil routine functions and support collaboration. And it has used Microsoft Azure in a move to the cloud, shifting about 75% of its applications and storage onto the platform while keeping the rest on premise.
The platform links into various line of business systems for the back office, but Labellarte says Enfield’s decision to build around the Microsoft stack has been a key element in the success of the restructure.
“It was a smart move because you avoid all the problems you have when you try to integrate a multitude of systems that don’t quite talk to each other,” he says. “It means there is one set of developers, one set of requirements and one system to build.
“Having that integration with things like Skype for Business, which they’ve done tremendously well, and the fact you can access the council’s systems from any device securely to PSN (Public Services Network) standards all within that Microsoft environment, is very close to perfection in digital terms.
“It brings all our problems and solutions into a one stop shop, so if we have a problem we know what it is and know we have the people who can give us a solution.”
The building of the platform and application around it have made it possible to reduce the council workforce by about 600 and are laying the ground for cumulative savings of about £16 million up to 2020. Further savings to meet the council’s target are expected to come from the development of a procurement and commissioning hub.
Labellarte says there is still some work to do on the digital restructuring, largely in adding features to meet requests from various departments in the council, and upgrading other systems to cloud solutions where possible. “It’s building the digital platform first, then fixing stuff around the edges,” he says.
The council also faces the challenge of changing the mindset of staff so they accept the use of the tools within the Microsoft package as the default way of working. He cites webchat as a prime example, for dealing with the public and each other.
But there are more ambitious plans beyond that, reflecting what Labellarte sees as a three-way division of the council’s processes. There are those that are high volume and low complexity that can be sanctioned through the simple filling of an online form and are more easily automated; those that are low volume but high complexity, such as responding to care needs for children and adults; and some that are in the middle – medium volume and complexity – such as dealing with enquiries and making decisions on planning permission.
The final group can require more complicated forms, but Enfield is already looking beyond that into the potential of using artificial intelligence (AI) to support the processes. It is talking to Microsoft about its own offerings in the space, and hoping this could provide more efficient services and more savings in the future.
“It’s immature at the moment but interesting,” Labellarte says.
Overall, Enfield’s experience over the past two years provides an example of how a focus on the core demands on an IT estate, and a consolidation within a single technology stack, can provide significant long term savings for a public authority.
Microsoft will be showing how it can help NHS organisations achieve long term savings at the Healthcare Financial Management Association conference in London on 7-9 December 2016. Take the opportunity to learn more.