The prospect of a changing landscape places stringent demands on the organisations that oversee public services, writes David Alvey, sector manager for central government at Pythagoras
Change is in the air for the UK's public sector ombudsmen and regulators. There is talk of rationalisation and merger to provide value for taxpayers' money, and an understanding that they cannot stand aside from the digital transformation of government
They will have to work smarter, and harness the potential of online self-service and cloud technologies. It requires some careful technology choices, in part reflecting the specifics of their roles, but also the demands facing all the public sector.
Speculation has been stirred up by the Robert Gordon report and subsequent Government response on the future of the ombudsmen for Parliament, health services, local government and housing in England, and the proposal that they be combined into a single Public Service Ombudsman. The Government has taken a generally positive view, and while no legislation has yet been submitted it has indicated that the issue is on its agenda.
It will also be taking heed of an earlier report from Parliament's Public Accounts Committee on handling complaints from the public, and its assertion that they should be valued and used as a basis for positive changes. This points to a changing dynamic that will place stringent demands on the organisations' IT.
Seeking public good
Regulators have a more diverse role, in some cases representing their membership as much as providing oversight of an industry or profession, and they are under pressure to be seen to be effective in ensuring it all works for the public good. It needs an effective flow of information with their stakeholders and a transparent and methodical method of reporting, both to Parliament and the public.
This is especially demanding for those overseeing a diverse community, which is becoming a common issue as the trend for mergers and consolidation continues.
They are all subject to the demands on the rest of the public sector, to use technology to do more with less, provide easier online processes for self-service and move towards digital driven, paperless operations. These can combine to make them more effective but pose a handful of key challenges for their IT systems.
One is to provide rigorous case management. They need information relevant to individual issues to support judgements and recommendations, incorporating data and documents in a variety of formats, and a framework to ensure it is managed in good time. It also needs integration with a workflow process and a series of alerts and notifications to ensure it stays on schedule to meet deadlines and SLAs, along with tools for monitoring performance.
This is becoming more complex with the move towards online self-service, and has to be set up in a way that makes it possible for a complainant, or somebody contributing to a consultation, to enter information and any supporting evidence as easily and securely as possible.
Structures and standardisation
Similarly, the reporting function of regulators demands that they present their findings and supporting material in standardised formats, so the information they receive has to be managed in a way that fits into the structures. They also need an effective business intelligence tool to interrogate data and provide the insights for their findings and recommendations.
Security is another crucial feature. Dealing with complaints often involves handling sensitive information that could be abused in the wrong hands, and it is important to have a secure channel for receiving and passing on data and documents.
It relates to the need to share documents effectively, which goes beyond enabling officials to view the information, to ensuring they can provide their own contributions and add information from additional sources when necessary.
Next is the need to integrate specialised software into the process, such as membership databases or finance systems. These contain data which can be relevant to investigations and have to be combined with information submitted from complainants or members of an organisation.
Then comes the fact that, for regulators in particular, they are increasingly dependent on staff collecting evidence around the country. This requires a robust cloud service to ensure they have access to necessary information and can update it from the field.
These are tough demands, but Pythagoras can show it is possible to fulfil them with the technology already available in the Microsoft stack. It has the capabilities to be highly effective in carrying the relevant processes from beginning to end.
Dynamics CRM can be the core enabler for efficient case management; Sharepoint provides a high quality collaboration environment for sharing material; Office 365 combines the basic office productivity tools with the levels of security to protect information; Azure provides the cloud computing platform to support staff in any location and to integrate with specialist systems holding crucial data; and Power BI makes it possible to visualise data on dashboards and create reports for internal and external readers.
Of course, these have to be integrated into a coherent structure; but they have been designed with that integration in mind. They can be valuable tools for regulators and ombudsman, and for any other public sector organisation that shares their challenges.
Pythagoras has the experience of helping organisations configure and, when appropriate, customise the Microsoft stack to meet the demands specific to them, and to work more efficiently with public money. It can be about more effective regulation and complaint handling, or any demand facing a public authority.
The company will be staging an hour-long webinar to discuss the changing landscape for ombudsmen and regulators at 2.00pm on Friday 22 April 2016. It will deal with case management and compliance, and examine how various elements of the Microsoft stack can contribute to successful delivery.