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How can local authorities achieve channel shift and transformation in an age of austerity?

I spend much of my time working with leadership and management teams of UK local authorities. Times are tough in local government. Local authorities face many pressures. Some of the key challenges that come up in discussion again and again are:

  • The relentless pressure on budgets and resources – budgets are still being dramatically cut and there’s no sign of that pressure relenting any time in the foreseeable future.
  • Those sections of the population that rely most on the services that local authorities deliver are themselves under financial pressure and feeling squeezed, making public service provision more important than ever.
  • The regulatory and statutory framework that UK public sector organisations have to work within is highly structured and sets high standards. Whilst high standards is obviously a good thing, many local authorities now find themselves in the position of having to deliver higher standards of service but with significantly less resource.
  • Increased technology and automation is leading to increased service expectations from users.  Customers expect public sector agencies to deliver service standards just as high as those of the private sector businesses that they deal with.
  • The demographics of the UK add to these pressures. The population is aging. People over 65 make up 20% of the county’s population today and the number of older people is rising much faster than the overall population of the country.  Older people consume the majority of social and health care services, and it is UK local government that is duty bound to deliver much of the social aspect of that care.

With that background it is no wonder that transformational change and channel shift are high on the agenda. How else are budget to be met and service standard maintained?

So how can you get started in an era of austerity? In this blog post I’m going to make some suggestions, based on my experience of working with UK Local Authorities to tackle these challenges. In essence my advice is to keep two words front of mind at all times: PRACTICALITY and PRAGMATISM. To expand a little further I offer the following suggestions:

  • You can save money and improve customers’ service perceptions by offering self-service options in some areas of your operation. To start with it’s important to focus on areas of service delivery where the processes involved lend themselves to self-service, digital transactions and automation.  Think of processes which are high volume low complexity and low risk. Introduce self-service in these areas first – doing this quickly can help you realise some early wins. You can work up to more complex areas over time.
  • Don’t rely solely on the technology to do all the work. It’s important to work with the staff who currently delivery the service – use their expertise and take the opportunity to remap and document processes. There may be more efficient ways of doing things and your experienced staff will know what these are.
  • Ask yourself the following questions:  how does the process work today? Can we simplify it?  If we simplify it what bad (or good) things might happen? Are we building our process to accommodate the exception or the rule?  Of course you will need resilience in your procedures to deal with exceptions, however self-service approaches should be designed primarily to deal with the majority of cases rather than the exceptions.
  • In pursuing practical and pragmatic approaches, it’s important that you don’t lose sight of your strategic goals. It’s a good idea to write a strategy document, share it with key stakeholders, keep it close to hand and make sure your strategy can be manifest as an ongoing set of coherent tactical activities.
  • Don’t just think about customer-facing processes.  Consider the whole chain of actions associated with each service request. It’s important to also consider the internal processes and actions required in order to respond to service requests. There are major wins to be had here too, in terms of saving time and money and increasing efficiency. Many of these benefits can be realised very quickly.
  • You will almost certainly need to make some investment in technology so think carefully about what this should be and try to create a phased programme of investment with incremental and measurable gains along the way. Be wary of large technology vendors promising large scale solutions with large price tags attached. The technology market has moved on!

I have the privilege of working with forward thinking and innovative local authority leaders who have demonstrated that, with the right balance of practicality, pragmatism and proper planning, implementing self-service processes can lead to very significant financial savings, saving which often go hand in hand with improved service delivery. It’s win / win for both local authorities and their clients.

One Response to How can local authorities achieve channel shift and transformation in an age of austerity?

  1. Michael Tichford November 25, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    I like the article (posted on LinkedIn). A couple of comments:
    The article is clearly coming from a digital by design perspective but there are three key principles essential to meeting the challenge so worth repeating
    • ‘Work with the staff who currently delivery the service’ – use their expertise and don’t rely solely on the technology to do all the work. Your experienced staff will (not maybe) know where the efficiencies are.
    • ‘Don’t build processes to accommodate the exception’. So many organisations build systems around the infrequent demand incurring huge day to day cost. Respond to the infrequent when it happens with what it needs.
    • ‘In pursuing practical and pragmatic approaches, it’s important that you don’t lose sight of your strategic goals. It’s a good idea to write a strategy document, share it with key stakeholders, keep it close to hand and make sure your strategy can be manifest as an on going set of coherent tactical activities.’ Spot on Berni, particularly the last part of this point. Lots of LAs have strategies but poorly articulated related tactical activities. One point though, don’t just share it with stakeholders, engage them in its creation as it is the only way to get buy in and commitment from the community.

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