Over the last few years there’s been a significant focus on the delivery and enablement of e-services in local government. I’ve worked with many councils who are embracing this agenda, moving towards digital delivery and introducing many new channels through which citizens can interact with them. Understandably, the focus of many transformation and channel shift projects is on the delivery of e-services for customer-facing transactions.

However it’s also possible to achieve very substantial cost savings and efficiency gains by applying the same principles of automation and self-service to back office internal processes. Indeed, it can sometimes be the case that there are easier and quicker wins to be had by addressing the automation of back office processes first and then applying the same principles to customer-facing transactions. Yet overwhelmingly the focus is on the front end with relatively few organisations really seeing the opportunities that back office automation presents.

In this blog post I want to consider why this the case and discuss whether it is now time for local authorities to think about transformation, channel shift and technology enablement far deeper into their processes? Spoiler alert – I think the answer to this question is a resounding and emphatic yes!

At Abavus we have had the privilege of supporting and enabling UK local authorities to tackle both internal and customer-facing automation. Having worked on several internal automation projects now I’ve learnt that the channel shift and automation of internal processes delivers very significant returns not only in terms of saving money and making more efficient use of resources but also in of delivering improved services. This last one is key. It’s often assumed that internal automation is just about saving money and being more efficient, but that’s not the case. It’s also about delivering better services to the end customer. It really is win/win, for managers, staff and customers.

An example of this can be seen in a recent project that we worked on with Stafford Borough Council, who wanted to automate much of their Streetscene (part of the Council’s Environmental Health Department) workflow and processes. There is a detailed case study about to be published on this project, so you can get more detail and context by reading that. However here are a few of the headlines.

  • Faster and more accurate reporting of jobs – by giving staff access to mobile reporting channels (rather than the paper-based system they had previously used), the team is now able to capture, process and resolve service requests both more quickly and more efficiently. The process of reporting jobs operate much more smoothly now with virtually none of the paperwork, delays and duplication of effort which were features of the previous system.
  • Dealing with problems before the public notice them – the new technology enables many more incidents to be noticed, captured onto the system and dealt with before a single complaint or notification from a member of the public is raised. This shows that the investment in mobile working has not only resulted in internal efficiencies but also led to much better public-facing service delivery.
  • More information about tasks and less duplicated effort – time, resources and money are all saved because issues are captured, recorded and resolved correctly the first time around. The new system enables the instant collection of much more data about an incident (such as geographically tagging it to the correct location, storing photographs and other useful information) so staff know what they’re dealing with and can find and solve the problems much more quickly than was possible before.

My experience of working on this project (and others like it) has shown me how much local authorities have to gain by looking at the automation of their internal processes, not just in terms of financial savings but also in terms of improving the customer experience. Don’t think that channel shift is just about moving customers towards new channels. Giving your staff access to new channels can be just as effective a way of achieving transformation.