Six reasons why service-oriented line-of-business systems will struggle to survive in modern public service organisations

We’ve been delivering digital platforms to enable transformation and channel shift programmes for UK local authorities for five years now.  It’s been hard yet rewarding work and we have developed and continue to grow a critical mass of UK authorities benefiting from our solutions. We’re adding approximately one new site every few weeks and expanding the footprint of our solution in with existing client organisations.  Clients range from relatively modest (in terms of size) district councils up to and including large unitary authorities.

As these client relationships have evolved, I’ve been impressed by the adaptability and increasing levels of innovation that I see from local authorities, as they evolve to remain relevant and effective service delivery agents in what can only be described as an extremely tough operating environment. Shrinking budgets and diminished resources have forced the transformation agenda for UK public service delivery…and most have risen to the challenge admirably.

I spend a great deal of my professional time working with our prospective clients figuring out, with them, what a solution will need to look like to work and to deliver the required savings.  As the market continues to develop I have noticed some distinct trends that, I believe, mean there are challenges ahead for vendors that focus solely on ‘line of business’ applications.  By ‘line of business’ I mean a software application that is aligned to a single and specific set of service activities, such as managing waste collections, or dealing with planning applications, or enabling leisure centre bookings – a system that focuses on just doing one thing. There is a bewildering array of these that are promoted and sold into the local authority market.

However, I strongly believe that local authorities are moving away from these ‘service oriented’ technology offerings towards a more holistic approach. Here are six reasons why.

  1. A process is a process regardless of service area – this is true even of quite complex processes. Whether you are deploying digital processes that enables the reserving of resources, the booking an appointment with a benefits advisor or booking a tee time on a municipal golf course, the underlying process is much the same.  As long as the underlying technology allows for ‘client-side configuration’ then a suitably enabled and trained council officer can create a streamlined digital equivalent of the workflow that will sit on a generic digital platform.
  2. Configuration is paramount. If your current system does not allow for deep and detailed self-configuration, down at the process level, then you should ask questions of your vendor. Technology platforms, to be relevant and cost effective in the current environment, should allow for detailed configuration without the need for specialist technical skills. If you have to go back to central IT and development teams, or even worse, to your vendor every time a process step needs to be refined then your organisation is burning cash and resources. Many legacy line-of-business systems do not enable detailed configuration, process design and roll out.
  3. Re-usablility is key. Having spent time self-configuring a digital process, be that reporting a fly tip, applying for a benefit or paying for a service, it is critical that the intellectual property that is inherent in the configuration of that process be available for re-use in the creation of comparable online processes (processes that share many parallels albeit may be in a different service area). I would also argue that councils should be able to share digital processes between themselves as organisations.
  4. End-to-end automation (where appropriate) is where the savings exist. Contemporary digital platforms allows for councils to quickly create, deploy and automate entire end-to-end processes. This should be from the creation of a service request to its resolution by a council operative (or its commissioned outsourced provider). This vision is much harder to make reality when there are multiple systems that don’t readily or easily speak to one another. In an IT infrastructure that is busy with many line of business systems, creating end-to-end processes is more difficult and more expensive, if not impossible.
  5. Avoid designing process for the exception to the rule. It is true that there is always a service delivery scenario that defies the typical or the usual. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to design streamlined digital processes to capture every exception.  Design your digital processes to deal with the 85% of cases that fall within the usual and then allow the exceptions to be identified and ‘hooked out’ to be dealt with by someone (a human being) equipped to understand the complexity of the exceptions. The tendency for service focused applications is to design to the exception making them overly specialised and expensive to maintain.
  6. Customers increasingly desire consistent user experience. A LOB for every service area or multiple LOBs within service areas creates a headache for end users, for IT and for customers. In the wireless and smartphone age customers want consistent user experience. An unruly estate of LOB systems does not lend itself to consistent process and user experience; especially when deploying digital self-service.

In summary I would say this.  Councils, over the last couple of decades, have invested in a very wide range of highly specialist line of business systems, for reasons that probably stood scrutiny and that budgets could afford at the time. In the new and prevailing reality that is no longer the case.  Transformation demands streamlining of process and budgets demand consolidation and de-cluttering of IT infrastructure. Contemporary, configuration-focused digital platforms with sufficient line of business like capability enable councils to meet the demands of the current reality.  This shift will not happen overnight but the shift is inevitable and is already well underway…




2 Responses to Six reasons why service-oriented line-of-business systems will struggle to survive in modern public service organisations

  1. Joel Scott February 7, 2017 at 9:24 am #

    Hi Berni. Our experience with local government customers has been slightly different. Many local authority business units have struggled (for well over a decade now) to make enterprise systems relevant to the day-to-day business processes that make a real difference to services (like collecting missed bins or requesting a bulky pick-up). Configuring business processes is one thing, but integrating the data to provide end-to-end services is not a skill-set that most of the local government departments I know have on tap. What our customers are looking for are integrated, cost-effective, line-of-business systems that can make help them work more effectively (quickly), but that demonstrate they can connect data with the enterprise service layer technologies that provide the common customer experience you rightly describe. I don’t think it’s a question or a digital platform OR line of business applications, but rather ensuring that the two parts can work together. Happy to talk further if you like.

  2. Berni Simmons
    Berni Simmons March 1, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    Thanks for the comment and feedback Joel.

    You raise some interesting points. In our experience, we’re seeing a concerted push from our 50 plus Local Authority clients to significantly rationalise their estate of line of business systems. The objective being to save costs and improve efficiency. I think it’s fair to say that there are some local authority service areas in which, either because of scale, complexity and sometimes inertia brought on by the prospect of change, that a dedicated line of business system will persist, is required and is the pragmatic choice. I’d also agree that the integration of the data to provide end to end service is not trivial. That said we are showing some real progress into these line of business areas and a number of our clients are demonstrating the ability to configure process, to tackle the data integration challenges and ultimately to deliver quality governance and services with a lower cost of ownership. Any deep process and system transformation must be properly planned and supported of course.

    On the flip side we’re also working in client sites where the approach is more as you describe i.e. ‘I don’t think it’s a question of a digital platform OR line of business applications, but rather ensuring that the two parts can work together.’

    We’re open to both approaches.

    The characteristic that never ceases to amaze me as we work with our Local Authority clients is just how broad (and sometimes chaotic) the system estate and architecture is. This is true of smaller and larger authorities and has typically evolved over years and decades. It is not unusual for back office system inventories that count into the 100’s of different systems from as many vendors and it is here that there is the opportunity for rationalisation and cost saving.

    I’d be happy to chat further.

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