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Welcome to the HSO dynamics matters podcast, your regular Sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters, and much more besides. I’m your host, Michael Lonnon and today I’m joined by HSO public sector lead, Matt Birtwistle. In this edition, we delve into the pressures facing local authorities and delivering services to the communities they support, and how changing the focus of technology adoption can help meet those needs in a more cost effective and efficient way.
Michael Lonnon – 1:13
Technology first or people first?
Matt Birtwistle – 1:16
Michael Lonnon – 1:18
Good, so when we’re talking about people first, technology plays a really big role in helping local government organisations serve the needs of the communities. On a more general basis, what do you think is the biggest challenge for those local government organisations that serve communities? What’s the biggest hurdle that they’ve got to get over?
Matt Birtwistle – 1:41
I think everybody will probably recognise just how tough it’s been to local government over the past decade. The budgets have been slashed from central government. But yet the demand for the services that they need to deliver hasn’t gone. They’ve had to do more in many cases with a lot less. That’s the challenge. You are balancing out what services do you need to offer to your citizens? There are things like refuse collection, everybody wants to have their bins emptying. That’s a service that people demand. Then it gets into other services around social care and various things, those are the elements that I think anyone of us could see probably having some personal experience of knowing that those services have now just had to go by the wayside.
Michael Lonnon – 2:40
Do you think a lot of it is the demand that is increasing and that’s what’s putting the pressure on delivery a lot of the time?
Matt Birtwistle – 2:46
The demands there most definitely, the age of austerity has probably increased the demand in many cases for those services. People are having to make do with a lot less themselves. The introduction of universal credit for example has had a massive impact on people. The central government will provide funds for local authorities to help citizens in need, but again, it’s not a huge amount and has to be carefully managed. That’s the dilemma that I see local authorities having to face. How do we continue to offer the services to the standards our citizens expect and do that in a very constrained budget environment?
Michael Lonnon – 3:42
So, population demand goes up, but finances generally come down and go the other way. For those local authorities that are having those challenges and still want to deliver those services, how might technology help them when budgets are going down and demand is going up?
Matt Birtwistle – 4:07
You’ve got to look at it from the commercial aspect of operating. If you take for example, utilities, they operate in a very competitive market, that’s very heavily regulated, and the regulator will demand that they operate in a way that is cost effective, because there’s only so much money to give them. So, the cost to serve your customers is an important metric or utility organisations are about trying to reduce the cost to serve without hurting the service that they offer. What you see is with local authorities able to take advantage of technology to deliver the same standard of services that they always had, and in some cases maybe that’s even better. So, if you get close to the citizens, but do it in a way that is not cost prohibitive, it will lower the costs of what the existing organisations and support costs on.
Michael Lonnon – 5:17
For local authorities that are looking to use technology to help service delivery, it doesn’t have to be today, in these days, it doesn’t have to be a big bang change, does it. We talk about digital transformation, which sounds like this big mammoth thing, it really doesn’t have to be like that, in order to get value out of technology, does it because things have changed now, haven’t they?
Matt Birtwistle – 5:39
Yes, the way that technology companies, and I include HSO within that, manage technology projects with customers is a lot different than it used to be. Nobody wants to really engage in a monolithic programme of technology implementation and the associated change that goes with that. There are times when it is appropriate when a replacement of a platform is needed. But these days, people are certainly looking to do shorter projects that deliver value quicker. So, if you can take an example of a business process that can be automated, therefore saving time for members of staff, rather than having to manually push paper around. If that process can be automated, then the time that’s saved over the course of a month, for example, yet the time that it takes to implement something like that could be less than two months. So, you get a very rapid payback, and you get the benefit straightaway and those small changes you do a few of those small changes and they add up to something that’s fairly substantial. That’s the way that we’re seeing local authorities coming to the market and asking for solutions that are quick and easy. Easy is probably not the right word, but more simple to implement so that they can get that master benefit. They want to get that technology benefit out of their citizens who are going to be using these things.
Michael Lonnon – 7:22
That’s an interesting point. Do you think most local authorities are aware, or do you think most local authorities are thinking if I’ve got to change, I’ve got to change big, and I can’t do that so I’ve got to stick with what I’ve got? Or do you think it’s actually that they’re becoming more agile in their thought process? They’re thinking about these small incremental changes to deliver value, do you think it’s becoming more prevalent I suppose?
Matt Birtwistle – 7:48
I definitely do see that there is a change happening in local regional government and the decisions that are being made at the higher level, about how to utilise technology it’s certainly different than what it used to be a decade ago. A part of that is driven by constraints that we talked about before, when you’ve got so much budget to spend and invest in. But it also is the recognition that there have been strong investments made in the past that actually make islands of data and islands of systems. But it is still feasible to join those and to get some efficiencies, by doing some fairly quick rapid process automation or better analysis using some reporting tools, for example, those types of projects, and I’m certainly seeing good leadership in IT departments and finance departments going we know that we can do this, we don’t have to chip away at what we’ve already got, you can actually add to it and improve.
Michael Lonnon – 9:02
If you’re working with a local authority, or if a local authority was thinking we do need to offer more value, who are feeling that they weren’t quite connected with their communities as they would like to be what advice might you offer to them as being the first step to bridging that gap?
Matt Birtwistle – 9:23
I think the easiest way is to not think too big. Obviously you’re aware of what it is that you want to provide you’ve got the basics of a technology use case. But quite often doing something that is fairly small in scale, which can then be expanded upon afterwards is the way to go. We do a lot of proof-of-concept work of trying out a use case and looking at what are the implications of this. Where does data need to go? Who is going to be using that information? How’s it going to be managed? How are we going to report and analyse that information? So a lot of questions that come out of doing what is still a small proof of concept and by keeping that scale and scope tight, it means it will be much more effective in getting those solutions deployed and getting them in front of the end user, the customer, the citizen, whatever you might want to do. It is a much more effective way of working. You don’t even want to be taking six months to do this and that you want it in weeks. That’s the sort of work that we’re doing with these clients now. It’s a very rapid proof of concept so give us what you can do in a couple weeks.
Michael Lonnon – 10:48
Most if not all local government authorities face budgetary pressures, against a backdrop of increasing need for services. Technology can help offer some relief by improving the connection between the authority and their communities and the collaboration between frontline workers and back-office support. Matt’s advice here is to start small, get quick value before expanding out. Small proof of technology concepts are often the quick and easy way to identify approaches that can help. Matt, as always, has bucketloads of wisdom to share, so stay tuned for more from him over the coming weeks and months. And where can you find out more? Just visit the dynamics matters podcast page at www.hso.com forward slash dynamics hyphen matters. So, till next time, take care of yourselves.