Coalition Government Likely to Drive Radical Redesign of Public Service Delivery

On behalf of Prelini Udayan

Yesterday Adobe hosted a fascinating online discussion about the future of frontline public service delivery under the new UK coalition government. A healthy attendance and very interactive audience – who sent in some probing questions – highlighted how important the next few weeks will be for those at the frontline of service delivery. So based on great content and incoming questions, this will be somewhat of a long blog summarising the event – apologises in advance!
We were fortunate to have expert panellists including Martin Ferguson, Head of Policy at Socitm, the council IT directors association; Alan Edwards, Council Member and Chair of the IT Panel at CIPFA, the local authority finance directors association; Helen Olsen, Managing Editor of LGITU magazine; and Alan Banks, Managing Director of Adobe UK. All of whom provided real insight into what lies ahead.
With the spectre of finding £6 billion of public sector savings in the next 12 months, all panellists agreed that there were potential pitfalls in the short-term. Martin Ferguson cautioned against the arbitrary introduction of new policies – such as flexible working – without proper thought being given to supporting process and technology. While Alan Edwards was concerned that a freeze in recruitment, added to a reduction in training funding, could negate much of the work done recently in workforce planning and modernisation.
However the panel preferred to focus on the opportunity for radical redesign of public service delivery that the new government and the need to drive efficiencies presented. Alan Edwards felt that the changes would lead to greater collaboration between authorities and agencies, a rationalisation of the services being delivered and focus on driving innovation that would increase engagement with both citizens and employees. Martin Ferguson highlighted the potential demonstrated by early Total Place initiatives that have put the citizen at the heart of service design; Adding that underpinning new services with the right structures and technologies was key to their success. 
The panel united around the belief that greater responsibility for decision making at a local level – as proposed in the Conservative manifesto – would have a positive impact on frontline service delivery. Martin Ferguson saw this driving the development of innovative local services that were more relevant and better targeted at local citizens and encouraging the development of joined up services. Alan Edwards made the point that this needed to be backed by a reduction in some of the centrally-imposed inspection and regulation currently holding back local decision-making and innovation.
Alan Banks used the NHS spine project as a great example of how devolving responsibility from a national to a local level had been critical in delivering key services such as electronic patient records and improved collaboration. Adobe has been working with a number of local NHS trusts to help them harness back-office systems and processes together with a lightweight integration layer and modern user interface to quickly and cost-effectively deliver these services.  This principle was picked up by Martin Ferguson, who suggested that the public sector had to focus on bringing together and exploiting existing services and infrastructure. There is no appetite or budget for ripping out and replacing legacy systems. Alan Banks talked about a project at Southwark Council that had delivered on this premise by adding a customer interaction and business process automation layer on top of existing back end systems. Initially this presented call centre agents with a single user interface to offer citizens a single point of access to a combination of over 100 services.
In answer to a question about migrating citizens to the online channel, Alan Banks highlighted how Southwark had migrated citizens to the phone first and then to the same services on the website once they had bought in to the joined up service. The underlying infrastructure and services remained the same to contain costs and retain simplicity.  
Which brought us on to citizen self-service, something all agreed could be a quick win for government services. For all panellists the focus had to be on driving as many people to online services as possible, reserving face-to-face and telephone channels for those that really needed them. Both Martin Ferguson and Alan Edwards echoed Alan Banks’ point about the need to maintain a common technology infrastructure for delivering services across multiple channels, with Alan Edwards giving the DVLA’s web and automated phone services as a great example.  
A discussion around shared services brought up the cultural obstacles that the public sector needs to overcome, with Alan Edwards recommending strong leadership and big gestures of trust and responsibility. Martin Ferguson highlighted how consumer insight could be used to help different teams and authorities to see the benefits that joined up services would bring to citizens.   
We ran a number of audience polls during the panel discussion. The results highlight the cultural challenge facing the public sector but illustrate a belief that technology will be a key enabler. They undoubtedly need to go hand in hand to deliver the radical redesign of public service delivery that the panel believe is possible -
1. Will shared services across frontline organisations (between councils and between council/police/fire or health) finally become a reality in the first 18 months of this new coalition government?
Yes – 49%       No – 51%
2. Can online ‘Citizen Self Services’ help the public sector continue to deliver high quality services in the face of £6bn cuts?
Yes – 98%        No – 2%
3. Is technology essential to improve new ways of working and cost savings?
Yes – 88%        No – 12%
4. Is public sector ‘culture’ a block to effecting the changes needed to deliver savings?
Yes – 92%        No – 8%

Thanks again to both the panel and a very interactive audience for making this a great debate. We’ll post a link to a high-quality video stream of the event on this blog in the coming days. Comments live could be viewed via Twitter feed #LGITU-live as well.
In the meantime, we are hosting a face to face seminar in London next Thursday – Engaging Citizen and Staff – hearing from Southwark on citizen self service, BIS on One point of contact and Adobe on efficient online service channels and the way forward. Register today.