Industry voice: Organisations should adopt a holistic step-by-step strategy encompassing people, process and technology in order to deliver meaningful change, writes Gary Bell, executive director of Civica UK
There is no doubt that the pressure to transform public services is intensifying, with the dual focus of growing demand for ever faster and more convenient customer service alongside dwindling public sector budgets. As such, local authorities have already invested heavily in digital transformation.
But there must also be investment in ensuring corresponding service transformation, and not just financial investment: strong leadership and collaboration needs to be at the heart of all change. Real transformation needs to be end-to-end, from addressing ineffective and costly processes and ensuring best technology use through to delivering an enriched customer experience.
This is no mean feat, requiring sizeable investment at a time when organisations are already struggling to maintain ‘business as usual’. However, the public sector can achieve its goals by developing a transformation strategy that combines people, process and technology as well as specifying business outcomes. These issues, and more, have been addressed in a new white paper sponsored by Civica, in partnership with Global Data: Delivering Sustainable Transformation in the UK Public Sector.
The new report emphasises that the financial squeeze, which has seen public expenditure fall by 5% as a proportion of gross domestic product since 2010-11, is likely to persist into the long term, meaning the public sector must continue to do more with less and making the need for transformation even more pressing.
Some years ago, transformation projects focused on ‘channel shift’, building digital platforms for front end interactions with the public. But this is just one piece of the transformation jigsaw; in isolation this approach will not improve services or deliver real efficiencies. Transformation projects need to be better informed and focus on delivering the changes required to improve public service delivery and meeting citizen demand.
Sustainable transformation, which provides real service improvements and allows local authorities to respond to changing circumstances in the long term, can only be delivered if organisations take a more holistic approach.
This can involve going back to basics; it’s vital to examine existing applications, how processes are structured between the front and back end office, understand what customers want and improve the experience end-to-end. It’s also crucial that the public sector draws on, develops or acquires capabilities in business processes, data analytics and enterprise architecture to ensure all of those elements align to meet strategic needs and provide better services.
We have to be ready to challenge assumptions, amend processes and change the way people work – using systems and products which deliver efficient and better services – but also have the ability to respond and adapt to future changes in policy and public demands.
GlobalData’s research indicates UK public sector spending on IT is expected to grow by less than 0.1% over the next few years – a fall in real terms – and that on average it has to spend two-thirds of its IT budget running existing systems. Only about a third is made available for projects aimed at change across the organisation.
So how can the public sector reduce the cost of business as usual while generating additional income in order to fund transformation projects? Exploring successful partnerships with public and private sector bodies can really help to drive this transformation forward.
Collaboration between public authorities can also be key to future success: sharing resources, skills and learning can help deliver significant efficiencies and service improvements. There are clear examples of where this has been successful – such as in the shared delivery of customer services by councils in Worcestershire – with scope for much more.
A step-by-step approach
There are new ways of engaging with private sector partners and suppliers. It’s no longer necessary to be restricted by old-style legacy contracts. Some suppliers now work with their customers, acting as transformation partners and adopting a new approach to include different commercial arrangements that are more flexible and support agility. For example, providing ad hoc skilled resources as and when required to support a transformation strategy, or helping improve business processes and trading operations to the point that they can then be sold to other organisations.
Technology needs to underpin transformation; applications as well as infrastructure obviously support service delivery and have a key role to play. So they need be a native part of any transformation programme.
Existing or legacy systems, contrary to popular belief, do not have to be got rid of to deliver successful transformation. Mature applications do a very good job and it should be recognised that transformation is still possible if they’re retained – the key is to ensure they can integrate with new systems. The use of new technologies like cloud computing can provide an agile and cost efficient foundation for the transformation of existing infrastructure and use of hybrid environments can support a step-by-step approach.
It’s now a priority for local authorities to look carefully at all their capabilities, both in technology and people, as a step towards complete transformation. While digital transformation is a large element here, and will provide the foundation to deliver change, the ultimate goal is to achieve service transformation, which is fundamental to the way we will deliver and improve our future public services in the UK.
For a full examination of the issues you can download the white paper, Delivering Sustainable Transformation in the UK Public Sector, from here.
Image by Kiran Foster, CC BY 2.0 through flickr