Friday, 23 December 2011

Public sector needs to retire the quick-fix and embrace integrated solutions

With austerity measures currently being put in place across the public sector, deployments of integrated smart technologies could finally begin to spread through fragmented systems. Acceptance should now spread quickly, but it has taken time.

Business leaders like Lord Digby Jones have long been vocal about local governments’ management of IT, suggesting that extra human resources are often thrown at problems, rather than innovative technologies. The result is high costs, inefficiencies and arguably over-staffed departments.
Recessionary pressures to reduce costs means a belated, broad acceptance of new solutions is imminent. This should be welcomed, and the need for rapid implementation should be encouraged.

However, before doing so public sector bodies would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture of their organisations. Diligently assessing technology which suits the needs of a whole organisation is infinitely preferable to selecting once piece of software which does a sound job in a specific department.

A large UK business consultancy found that an English local authority employed no fewer than eleven disparate IT systems within a single business unit. Individual IT systems were designed and deployed to deliver care and transport services to a small community of adults with special needs. Attempts to unify the solutions were minimal.

But with the range of flexible and affordable technology available today, this no longer has to be the case.

An ideal approach would involve maximising investment in both people and technology, whilst narrowing the chasm between private and public sectors. It’s a chasm bred from the misconception about business objectives. A key shared objective of any organisation, whether in the private or public sector, is to take a quality service and deliver value to its customers. Methods of achieving this in the private sector can easily be transplanted into the public sector.

To do this, I would advocate a process of enterprise mobility-led business rationalisation. Put simply, a new resource can be absorbed throughout an organisation to compensate for a reduced headcount in the form of a single mobile platform. This can be integrated with existing IT solutions to give instant wireless access across a range of portable devices which are already in use. Mobile must be a major consideration within an overall IT strategy.

Areas of local government that stand to benefit include social housing, environmental health, occupational therapists, highways, pest control, education, courts, social services, building services.

There’s a sustained need to encourage public sector organisations away from simply applying more manpower, and instead look to private sector organisations for advice, solutions and examples of best practice. Technology exists today which enables organisations to get it right first time with a single-platform approach and no high-cost, specialist devices. There’s no reason why a residential warden can’t use the same system as a care worker.

It all begins with openness, acceptance, and a wider vision of what can be achieved.

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