Suppliers involved in lucrative outsourcing contracts need to take a hard look at how much progress has really been made on the ground
WITH advanced technology in the hands of kids in the playground, waiters in restaurants and taxi drivers on the road, why does it seem like nurses, social workers and teachers are still walking around clutching reams of paper?
In fact, many aren’t, but that is really the problem. The public sector has pockets of fantastic ideas, innovation and improvements, but it hasn’t managed to adopt these across the board and deliver the consequent efficiencies. Now is a critical time to join up individual, small-scale initiatives and create an environment for real action and real reform.
The technology is certainly available and increasingly less expensive. But something happens when you seek to apply it to complex organisations trying to work together to deliver public services. There is definitely complexity, as well as political and financial constraints, but Scotland should have an advantage here. The numbers of organisations that interact are relatively few and there are moves under way to consolidate these further. The current majority government has made commitments to protect frontline services and if it is to achieve this, efficiencies should be sought and implemented now.
So what’s stopping us? Well, in some ways it’s us. You and me. Each of us and more specifically, our mind sets. Inefficient systems and bureaucratic processes allow us to avoid change and the uncertainty that accompanies it. Only through change and reform will we be able to afford the services we want to protect. Reform is the mechanism that will keep our services relevant and help them meet the increasing expectations of our citizens.
The gap between the general public and public services is widening, as consumers begin to demand the same levels of service, responsiveness and accountability they get from commercial organisations. With household budgets tightening, tax is seen less as an inevitable fact of life and more as an investment for which a tangible return is expected. Our demographics are also changing. While our grandparents would probably never have dreamed of complaining about their hospital care, subsequent generations are increasingly litigious and ready to comment and criticise publicly via social media and the press.
The technology industry also has to step up to the plate. It has been far too wedded to traditional approaches to IT services for the public sector, without incorporating the agility and rapid returns on investment expected in the private sector.
Suppliers involved in lucrative outsourcing contracts need to take a hard look at how much progress has really been made on the ground. Not in terms of a more efficient supply of IT services, but in terms of what difference has been made to outcomes for citizens using those services. Are people healthier, safer, better educated, able and willing to become more involved in improving their community?
We are seeing more collaboration between competitors and I hope that extends to involving smaller Scottish businesses that have a lot to offer in terms of innovation and value for money. There is mutual benefit in being a solid partner to these businesses – tapping into our local intellectual capital while opening up new markets and seeing money go back into Scotland. Prosperity in our communities is in everyone’s best interests.
Dell is investing millions of dollars in listening to our customers at a time when we face the same financial constraints as all companies operating in the global economy. Why? Because it is the best way to handle the hard times and be ready for better times ahead. We can stop doing the things that our customers don’t need and do more of what they do. Our transformation to a solutions business is driven by what customers need, not what we have to sell.
Technology is a big part of that and a true driver of change. Mobility solutions help us collaborate as global teams without incurring travel costs and reducing estates/facilities expenditure dramatically. That’s one place where the millions of dollars to listen and improve services come from. Imagine if you could free up just ten per cent of the estates bill in your public sector organisation and how far that would go to addressing budget cuts? Did Dell spend vast sums on requirements gathering, evaluations, consultants, feasibility studies and a protracted procurement exercise to do it? No, we bought an ‘off the shelf’ product and spent the money on implementing it properly.
Okay, it isn’t always that simple and there are very good reasons for the safeguards in place to protect public money. However, there are a number of ‘no brainers’, like agile working and mobility that have proven business cases and produce almost immediate return on investment, but are still yet to be implemented.
It is absolutely possible to protect frontline services and make significant improvements in efficiency. More than that, cost-benefit analysis shows that these initiatives pay for themselves remarkably quickly. Many can be undertaken at levels of investment well under OJEU procurement thresholds and frameworks exist to make purchasing easier and less onerous.
With cost-effective solutions available, a supportive government and a financial imperative, there has never been a better time to make the hard choices about beginning a real transformation of Scotland’s public sector. Jobs, working practices and ‘traditions’ will change but they must. It is better to step up now and shape the future than wait until it is too late to influence it.
So what can be done? Everyone probably has private views on where to start and there is certainly a great deal of public debate about the best way to transform services, but the reality is that all of these will fall short in some way. It is impossible to design the perfect approach at the outset and the best way to meet the challenges facing the public sector is to start taking decisive action, accept that it won’t always work as planned first time, learn as we go along and have the conviction and belief to see it through despite occasional criticism.
From working with our customers around the world, and from our own transformation, there are a number of recurrent themes that characterise successful change supported by technology:
Make use of what’s already been achieved
Too often there is a belief that ‘rip and replace’ is the only way to better exploit IT. Modern integration technologies like Boomi allow legacy systems to deliver every ounce of value from the original investment. Architectures can be designed to better utilise existing infrastructure before adding new.
Look at smaller opportunities
Aside from the procurement challenges in the public sector, smaller programmes can build momentum quickly and create positive belief in success. This is hugely difficult in larger programmes, but by stringing together smaller initiatives, collaborating with neighbouring organisations to tackle different challenges (and accepting their solutions as good enough for you), it’s possible to do much more.
Make the first move
Don’t wait for consensus or permission. Look at what would really help deliver a better, more efficient and more affordable service, and campaign for action. Don’t be reckless but don’t take no for an answer unless it really can’t or shouldn’t be done. It starts with every member of your service agreeing that they will listen to service users and strive to find better ways of delivering that service. Not because we all have to save money, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Pay attention to social media, it isn’t a fad and it isn’t going away
The ‘conversation’ is going to go on about your services with or without you. If you’re not convinced of the value as a service improvement tool, look at patientopinion.org.uk or fixmystreet.com – these are opportunities, not threats!
Avoid hanging junior and middle managers ‘out to dry’ when they get it wrong. Mistakes will be made, they may be in public and there will be a temptation to hunt for scapegoats that can be sacrificed to appease the mob. Don’t do it – your people won’t learn from their mistakes, they won’t use their initiative and they won’t take the calculated risks you need them to take in order to drive improvement.
I truly believe the private sector is ready and willing to help Scotland create a world-class public sector. Our companies are fundamentally people. People, who live in our communities, educate children in our schools, treat illnesses in our hospitals and use the services provided by local and central government supported by the taxes we all pay. We aren’t the enemy. We want to help you make it happen. Now is the time for reform and maybe a little bit of Scottish revolution.
Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) listens to customers and delivers innovative technology and services that give them the power to do more. Dell Services develops and delivers a comprehensive suite of services and solutions in applications, business process, consulting, infrastructure and support to help customers succeed. Learn more at www.dell.com.