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Joe Tibbetts is the publisher and managing editor of I-D Information Daily; Public Service Digital and Healthcare Innovation Monitor. He has advised numerous public sector organisations on their communications.

@joe_tibbetts

Digital delivery is the silver bullet of getting more for less in the delivery of local public services, but.....

The potential for technology to deliver services more cost-effectively is widely accepted as the silver bullet of reinventing local public services. But simply going digital without ensuring you have optimised business processes can mean the bullet misses the target.

That councils have to do better but with less resources is a simple fact of life. The potential for technology to deliver services more cost-effectively is widely accepted as the silver bullet. But simply going digital without ensuring you have optimised business processes and that the right monitoring is in place can mean that digital councils end up doing the same wrong things - only more quickly and at greater cost. What use is a car that drives itself if the passenger can’t find it, or get into it when he or she does?

There is a natural and wholly appropriate focus on minimising the number of human interventions in any given process, explains Nick Howes of Arcus Global: “Analyse the calls to a local authority and you all too often find citizens trying to understand why some expected action or result hasn’t happened”.

But encouraging the customer to self-serve in finding out why something hasn’t happened is only the start. “Where the system breaks down is where the digital delivery pathway breaks and the break has to be bridged by human intervention,” says Howes. “If that self-initiating part of the process doesn’t mesh with the next steps (re-scheduling the missed action for example) and the CRM system is not linked and therefore not aware that the interaction has happened or the problem logged, the interaction will simply end up as a costly phone call after all and there is much less chance that the problem will be fixed and so avoided in the future.”

There are, of course, some quick wins that should happen without thought or comment. Making sure that the citizen is fully informed at the start of a transaction for example. But not just at the start. The user needs to know where they are in the process at each stage along the way.

If all this sounds slightly over simplified then so much the better. Why is it that the vast majority of online commercial purchase and booking processes track the users progress along a time line of stages at the top of the screen and so few processes on council websites do the same?

If an online cheese shop thinks I need the progress tracking tool to buy 500g of Mrs Whatsit’s crumbly Lancashire, why doesn’t the customer service management at my local council think I need something similar to pay the “non-domestic rates” on the lock-up where I store the caravan?

Nick Howes’ emphasis on process isn’t surprising. Process provides the structure in which the promise of digital can be realised. We will be coming back to this discussion in the run-up to Better Connected Live which this year focuses on the reinvention of local public services.

Better Connected Live is designed as a challenging and enlightening annual get-together where the leaders of the digital revolution in providing local services can bang their heads together and shake out a few real, solid silver, magic bullets. And it’s a fair bet that much of the debate and discussion will be around three crucial factors Process, Process and Process.

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