Sunday, 16 September 2007

Mobile and Flexibile working in local Government

Recently I was involved in a detailed report into the uptake of mobile and flexible working in local governement.

I have detailed below the executive summary from the the report.

If you would like a full copry of the report it can be found at:


Throughout history change has been fundamental to the evolution of both society and business. Change represents a new direction, a departure and often heralds a new way, a new approach and even a new beginning.

The survey and resulting report represents the first phase of the Mobile Data Association’s commitment to helping mobilise Local Government departments and services for the benefit of the authorities and their citizens. It is based on responses from more than 1,200 staff from 392 local authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 83.8% of the total.
The most significant finding is, that local authorities are in the early stages of making fundamental changes in the way they run public services by adopting mobile technology which will result in new efficient working practices.

A small number of Local Authorities (15%) are equipping there staff with laptop computers, personal digital assistants and smart phones, for example, benefits officers are processing claims and social care workers assessing needs in people’s homes, building and health inspectors are completing inspections on the spot rather than having to return to headquarters. Meanwhile, office workers are carrying out a wide range of roles from their homes, contributing to productivity, environmental benefits as well as more family-friendly employment.

The future is mobile

Nearly all respondents agree that both mobile and flexible working will help to improve services and operate more efficiently.

Significantly, local authorities with some experience of flexible or mobile working are more optimistic about efficiency gains than those that have yet to begin.
The majority of respondents with experience also feel that flexible and mobile working will lead to more responsive and better services for the citizen. However, there are still significant steps that must be taken to help mobile-based projects move from concept phase to established, deployed solutions with significant business and citizen benefits. This is confirmed by about 5% of respondents say they are struggling to overcome problems with changing to new ways of working, such as staff cultures and the up-front cost of new systems.

Presenting a new way forward

The reality is, that considered deployment of mobile technology brings significant benefit to all adopters; as referenced by a small number of key success stories in local authorities but widely across the private sector.

There are, however, significant concerns raised about the ability of Local Authorities to transform using mobile and flexible working when so many responses focus on technology driven pilots.

This requires local authority decision makers to reappraise the way mobile projects are approached. However the appetite amongst local authorities to adopt mobile technology is most encouraging and this is confirmed by the large number of pilots that are currently taking place.

Nearly everyone is planning it, some are doing it

In 2007, the vast majority of UK local authorities are piloting or implementing flexible and mobile working. With flexible working, most (45.9%) are still at the pilot stage, with 9.9% having moved already to roll out or live/implementation. Nearly three in ten (27.7%) are at the planning stage and only 16.5% have no plans (or know of no plans).

Mobile working is at a similar state of play, with 85% of respondents saying that their authority had some project under way at - 24.8% at the planning stage, 46.6% piloting and 15.3% implementing. Just 13.4% had no plans (or knew of no plans).
Most of the deployments to date of mobile working are revenues and benefits (including home visits), social services, environmental services and building control.

Flexible working appears more likely to be piloted or applied on a corporate basis rather than department specific; over half (53%) of those with live projects reported implementations across more than one service at the point of survey. Some of these are on a very large scale - 10% of live projects involve more than 500 people and 4% more than 1,000 people. The two largest projects cited by survey respondents cover 6,000 people and 12,500 people.
Regionally, the south east of England leads the way in rolling out both flexible and mobile working.

The number of pilots being undertaken is around 45%. This figure is very encouraging. However, the report identifies significant challenges that could prevent the success of these pilots

Mobile and flexible working support transformation and efficiency

Managers and front-line staff agree that both mobile and flexible working can help local authorities meet the government’s agenda of transforming local government, with its moves towards citizen-centric government run through shared IT services. This key finding shows near-unanimous agreement in local government for the positive potential of both flexible and mobile working.

Almost all respondents with experience of projects found that efficiency gains through improved productivity are there to be obtained (90%). Interestingly, this is a higher level of savings than expected by those local authorities who have yet to undertake flexible or mobile working projects; only just over 80% of those expected improved productivity.

The majority of respondents with current experience (around three-quarters) also feel that flexible and mobile working will lead to more responsive and better services for the citizen. On the other hand only just over half of respondents agree that mobile and flexible working will help them design services around the citizen – suggesting that efficiency alone is not enough to reshape processes with more citizen focus.

Respondents cite a wide range of other potential benefits from flexible working. These include environmental benefits, better working conditions for staff and better potential partnership working a key part of the transformational government policy.

Benefits found in both flexible and mobile working that were not expected include freeing up assets, improved emergency planning, reduced staff absence and increased productivity.

Among the 5% of respondents who said that flexible working would not help meet the transformational government agenda, staff contracts emerged as one barrier. Another respondent cited lack of trust as a reason for an authority rejecting home working outright. Lack of resources emerged as a potential obstacle.

Around half of all respondents felt that flexible working practices could lead to more efficient use of land and buildings; 40% felt that the same would be true for mobile working.
Among the 5% who said mobile working would not help with transformational government, concerns covered ambiguities in transformational government itself, technical limitations of mobile equipment.

As with the transformational government agenda, the vast majority of respondents with current experience with flexible and mobile working - 77% and 81% respectively - say that mobile and flexible working will help their authority comply with the Gershon efficiency agenda.
However only around a fifth of respondents believe that either flexible or mobile working will ultimately result in a reduction of the number of staff employed by their local authority.

Only 8% say that flexible working will not help meet the Gershon efficiency agenda; reasons include it bring too early to tell, new ways of working are too different for direct judgments to be made, and existing contractual arrangements constrain the council’s ability to make property savings. Another concern is that systems used at home break down more frequently than the systems in the office, and people home-working make far more mistakes.

A similar percentage, 7%, say that mobile working will not help meet the Gershon efficiency agenda. Reasons include the extra cost of mobile technology not leading to reductions in establishment costs. Respondents cite the need for more evidence from pilots and wider implementations of technology.

Mobile Technology is proving a challenge

The majority of the negative responses indicate that the technology is not reliable or suitable for mobile and flexible working; this indicates a severe lack of understanding on how to apply the technology appropriately, which suggests that these pilots are technology based rather than process based. The fact is mobile technology does work and there are some success stories in local authorities and numerous in the private sector that support this.
Most Local Authorities are not seeking expert assistance

When questioned about advice and guidance on the deployment of mobile and flexible working solutions very little is taken from industry experts and considerable faith is put in internal resources to provide this. In fact the findings show that only 1% of Local Authorities will seek assistance from commercial expert organisations (virtually all private sector businesses seek assistance). We believe this approach is fundamentally flawed and could result in a trial and error approach and a high risk of failure.

Mobile projects are still high risk

Respondee's state that there are considerable challenges in the deployment of flexible and mobile solutions. This is compounded with the lack of involvement of the end users when planning mobile working projects (less than 50%). This figure should be 100% to ensure buy-in from the users and, ultimately, successful deployment.

The result of both lack of engagement with expert organisations and the end users could result in a majority of pilots underway failing for lack of proper planning and understanding. This is a major concern which could result in the failure of 50% of the pilots and projects that are in the process of being deployed.

Knowing what to ask for

The majority of Local Authorities undertake an ITT process to select a suitable vendor and solution. The MDA suggests that all Local Authorities as part of their business case
development, undertake a formal information gathering exercise -. A structured Request for

Information (RFI) should be produced that defines how mobile users currently undertake their day to day work (field force workflow). Information should include details of how the vendors solution could meet the strategic aims of the authority; ie accommodation strategy, work/life balance aims, improvements in service delivery.. The RFI should be sent out to industry experts in enterprise mobility, with the brief: “This is what we do, tell us how mobile solutions will revolutionise this process and what the approximate costs are.” The resulting responses will provide valuable expert information which can then be used to create the business case, the ITT and the vendor selection process.

The MDA believes this additional process coupled with a keep it simple approach to ITT’s will make a fundamental difference to the quality of pilots and projects. This will ensure that ITT’s are neither too prescriptive nor making unrealistic demands and will provide a platform for vendors to suggest innovative technologies and processes matching an authority’s particular requirement.

Impact on the environment

Some of the most exciting potential benefits from flexible and mobile working are environmental. The survey finds evidence that they are starting to appear, but that the picture is complex. Only around one respondent in five says that flexible and mobile working would have no significant positive environmental impact.

The key environmental benefits flowing from both flexible and mobile working are reduced need for office space and unnecessary journeys. On the other hand, there is a discrepancy between environmental benefits predicted by people before projects are implemented and by those responding after pilots or projects are in place. In places, this gap is huge: for example 60% of people expect flexible working to ease transport congestion before programmes are in place; compared with 12% afterwards. (As local authorities generate only a tiny proportion of congestion, both figures may be optimistic.)

Percentages of those reporting environmental benefits from actual projects is still significant, however. More than a third or respondents say that office space is reduced, for example, which is impressive despite the fact that predictions beforehand were even more hopeful.

The deployment of mobile solutions will have a positive impact on any organisation’s carbon footprint. However the survey suggests that mobile projects are not having significant impact. Further research needs to be undertaken to understand why the impact is considered insignificant. This is an important but unexplored area. It is our intention to provide guidance on how mobile solutions can have a positive impact in reducing carbon emissions.

Barriers remain to be overcome

The survey identifies a range of technological, operational and cultural barriers that must be tackled before flexible and mobile working are implemented widely. Although many of these barriers are only reported by small numbers of local authorities, together they show that there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure the greatest levels of success are achieved by the greatest numbers of authorities.

Respondents who identified significant barriers to corporate adoption of mobile and flexible working say that managing people at a distance is more difficult than expected. Culture change and loss of personal contact or team spirit can also pose problems. On the other hand, technology and cost turn out to be less significant barriers than expected.

Mobile working attracts more concern than flexible working, with a range of issues raised. Many of these are technical barriers, such as a lack of wireless coverage; difficulties of integrating new mobile systems with existing IT systems; IT security; and issues such as battery life and the weight of a laptop to carry around.

Some responses indicate that significant barriers have been encountered among staff. The most significant barrier was the difficulty of introducing a major change in working culture. For flexible working, the other major concerns are a lack of staff technology skills, ranked equal second alongside loss of personal and peer group contact, fear of technology, and feelings of isolation.

For mobile working, lack of technology skills is an even greater concern, ranked at 50% alongside culture change; followed by fear of technology and a loss of personal and peer group contact. With mobile working, however, loss of personal and peer group contact turned out to be far less of a barrier than predicted, with 72% of respondents predicting problems before implementation and just 31% afterwards.
Feelings of isolation, a related barrier, also turn out to be less of a problem than feared, as did problems with self-motivation; a loss of guidance from senior staff; and general issues with introducing change.


The MDA believes Local Authorities are moving in the right direction and have demonstrated the benefits of mobile and flexible working. However, there are lessons to be learnt from industry that can further enhance both the speed of deployment and the satisfaction of the users and thus further enhance the Authorities’ efficiency and response to their citizen stakeholders.

No comments: