Latest Public Sector News

17.09.14

Channel shift doesn’t need to start with seismic change

Guest blog by Debra Maxwell

Say the words ‘channel shift’ to anyone involved in the delivery of public services and you may be met with a furrowed brow and pained expression. That’s because the phrase has taken lofty connotations. As a result, much of the discussion around the government’s digital by default agenda tends to focus on large flagship projects, belying much of the smaller-scale, but still impactful, work being undertaken by authorities at a local level.

Take a closer look at any forward thinking council and you’ll find a number of initiatives that showcase how the intelligent use of technology is helping to deliver efficiencies.

Our partner Slough Borough Council, for example, has embarked upon a major transformation programme. Its aim mirrors that of authorities up and down the country – delivering better local services while also findings significant efficiency savings. While many of our joint initiatives are focused on its executive function, with a particular emphasis on streamlining back office services, some lateral thinking identified a way of enabling councillors to work more efficiently while helping to promote channel shift.

The authority’s political representatives naturally spend long periods working away from the office, while still having to produce or review significant volumes of paperwork. Mobile working was always the answer but concerns about cost, security and the need to break old habits, had hampered efforts to make it effective in the past.

The solution came from providing the authority’s councillors with high-speed internet-enabled tablet devices with a secure log-on function.

Of course, any change initiative has its barriers and in this case security was the key concern, owing to the highly sensitive nature of local government data. Thankfully the availability of new security solutions, coupled with the rise of cost-effective tablet devices, meant these barriers were overcome.

If lost, stolen or in suspected breach of protocol, each tablet has a facility that allows our IT team to manage the device remotely, and perform a full or selective wipe to block access by unauthorised users.

The way this project was implemented has been key to its success. Rolling out the devices at the beginning of the new term to newly-elected and re-elected councillors – rather than mid-way through – helped to ensure the innovation was very well-received. While supplying individual training and on-call IT support has made sure the transition has been smooth and usage of the tablets was high from day one.

The new approach has proved very popular. More than 40 councillors now use the tablets in their everyday work: providing secure, remote access to shared documents; mobile email; and the ability to capture and deal with citizen concerns much quicker, sometimes while the councillor is still meeting with them. It’s effective for them and also a helpful signal that the council is dedicated to digital transformation and as more and more services are being delivered online, councillors now have the tools to provide hands-on guidance to their constituents.

Removing their reliance on paperwork has also reduced the risk that hard copies of documents could fall into the wrong hands.

Crucially, the switch to a paperless model will also deliver an estimated £25,000 saving in annual printing and paper costs. Not bad for a ‘small’ initiative.

It’s a remarkably simple innovation on the surface, but it’s having a direct impact on the quality of service provided for residents. Surely that is the essence of how digital by default can be achieved - coming up with simple to use solutions, identifying early adopters and providing the support for them to embrace the change and spread the message.

Debra Maxwell is managing director of arvato UK

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