Using Digital Communication Is No Longer Innovative for the Public Sector. It Has To Be BAU
Public sector expert John Duffy outlines why, in an era of permanent budgetary pressure, eliminating the paper chase is the only option
As we start another year in the public sector – a year that is sure to be marked by Brexit at the central level and on-going financial pressure at the local and wider public sector levels – it’s important to recognise that many of the mechanisms traditionally relied on to interact with the citizen and service user no longer make sense in 2017.
After all the public sector needs to communicate a lot with the public – from setting up and managing face-to-face appointments to eliciting important fiscal information. The way it made sense to manage that process in the past was using the postal service, which seamlessly and efficiently transmitted all the paper we generated out of the red tape factory (in triplicate).
But it simply doesn’t make sense to manage things this way in 2017. The public sector spends a lot of money and time sending snail mail out. This is not news, since one of the first things the last government did was to get Martha Lane Fox to point out that a lot of public sector process was too paper-oriented. These insights have been a big part of the push for a paperless NHS; and there have been similar calls in the emergency services and in local government.
A push towards modernisation across the public sector
So I’m not saying anything new when I say that moving from paper to more digital forms of communication with the public is a good idea, as it saves time, money, and is in line with how people interact with other services in their lives, from banking to travel to shopping and relationships.
Why am I still raising this with public sector ICT leaders?
A variety of factors, from remaining internal resistance to endemic structural inertia are responsible. Some parts of the NHS are still firmly wedded to keeping those infamous Lloyd George manila folders, after all.
But it’s time to stop prevaricating. The Government Digital Service is serious about trying to make as much public-facing central government content and transactional services digital by default (even at the pensions level, for example). The Department of Heath has committed £4.2bn to making some parts of the health service paperless, and advisory bodies like Socitm are making headway with helping local government modernise.
Digital comms as part of the enterprise stack
All this activity makes me think that 2017 will be the year the UK public sector starts to explore greater use of digital media like text and email to share and obtain information from citizens.
That is a process that could strip away any need for letter generation and paper processing of forms. And it could be so much more. Just like the private sector, the public sector is expected to be more responsive and flexible when it comes to delivering services – something we’ve seen in our ‘Citizen Relationship Management’ work with Elmbridge Borough Council, for example, where immediate feedback on service delivery is channeled into the organisation’s work to improve its user satisfaction levels.
The good news is, as Elmbridge shows, technology like VoiceSage’s can offer enormous benefits to public sector organisations ready to embrace digital outreach. What’s more, apart from the scale and flexibility of our service offering, it dovetails into an existing enterprise IT stack, forming the communications element of an integrated services and CRM process.
I said this year might be the ideal time for exploring such projects, and I’ll close with a stat you’re probably familiar with to show why. Since 2010, austerity has been the only consideration for local government. For every £1 received by councils in 2010/11, they got just 73.6p in 2013/14, and while 500,000 jobs have been cut in the last six years the government is committed to saving a further £3.5bn in 2019-20.
In other words, the public sector can’t afford to work the way it used to. It has to adjust to the new reality. Digital is better, cheaper, and what the vast majority of the public uses every day.
So how about a commitment in 2017 to see how a proactive digital communications platform can help?
John Duffy is our Enterprise Sales Consultant