Louise Sunderland, Local Government Sector Lead at Ignite Consulting, outlines three steps that public sector organisations can take to deliver genuine value from their technology investment
Local government has shown in the last 18 months how quickly change can be achieved. A sector that is often perceived as sluggish has adapted with remarkable speed. Council customers have responded too, increasing their digital usage and skills as services moved online. Three-quarters of 50-70 year olds were making more video calls during lockdown and 31% are emailing more than before the pandemic. (1)
However, with higher adoption of digital services comes higher expectations of those services and for many councils these changes have been achieved despite, not thanks to, the technology they have in place. Many local authorities are tied into outdated contracts for inflexible legacy systems. A shortage of digital skills and lack of funds makes it even harder for councils to rise to customer expectations.
There are multiple drivers for councils to adopt new, cloud-based technologies that open up data: boosting productivity, managing demand, meeting the challenge of budget constraints. Crown Commercial Services (CCS) has encouraged the shift to cloud services through frameworks such as G-Cloud and the Government Digital Service Standard helps government organisations to make good decisions about what technology to buy. (2)
So why is it so hard to deliver genuine value and change through public sector technology? And what do public sector organisations need to do differently to overcome the challenge?
Define strategic outcomes before you go shopping
Too much technology procurement in the public sector takes place without being driven by strategic outcomes, or without considering the wider operating model changes that will be required to deliver the benefits.
This can result in muddled priorities and money being spent on systems that deliver little value. Or, even if the right technology is selected, people and processes do not adapt to make the most of it, resulting in the same outcomes being delivered with new tools.
Ignite’s approach is to start with an organisation’s strategic priorities and target operating model. In our work with Guildford Borough Council, we helped to define seven strategic objectives for the transformation programme. We worked with the council to create a high-level design for a new operating model, underpinned by design principles that could be applied to changes across the model – to structures, culture, processes and systems.
This meant that the requirements for new technology could be clearly linked to programme objectives and benefits.
Technology procurement is not Supermarket Sweep
“What we need is one system that does everything.” Lack of clarity over an organisation’s strategic priorities combined with a naïve approach to requirements gathering can lead to statements like these and unrealistic expectations.
It is important to engage within your organisation to define requirements, but this needs to be done in a thoughtful way, otherwise requirements can get bloated. One supplier described this as the ‘supermarket sweep’ approach: every wish list item gets swept into the trolley of requirements. Unlike in the TV game show, there is a price to pay if you want those dreams to come true.
Public sector procurement policy encourages pre-tender market engagement, and this is reflected in the guidance for all CCS technology frameworks.(3) The guidance also stresses a focus on specifying outcomes rather than detailed technical requirements.
At Guildford Borough Council, CRM was at the heart of the technology required to enable the operating model. But the council had not implemented CRM before. Ignite supported the council to design and run a pre-tender market engagement exercise to help them understand the strengths and weaknesses of different products, resulting in a rapid procurement of the right solution. The entire process, from pre-market engagement to selection, took four months.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
Finally, you’ve bought your new technology, and the world is going to be a better place… isn’t it? Not yet. Even if you’ve got the clearest strategic objectives and run a peerless procurement process, we all know that the real work starts with implementation.
Implementations of large-scale systems are complicated and often painful. The media is rife with stories of failed public sector technology projects. This could be the subject of a series of articles, but some key lessons learnt are:
- Don’t try to deliver everything on Day One – Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- Focus on strategic objectives and link your delivery to benefits.
- Adopt a minimum viable product (MVP) approach.
- Set expectations.
- Engage stakeholders with regular show and tells.
- Invest in dedicated testing resources.
- Ensure staff are trained effectively.
At Guildford Borough Council Salesforce CRM was implemented in 10 months. Ignite supported the council to define a clear MVP to ensure the scope was realistic and linked to programme benefits. Early outcomes included centralising 15 telephone numbers to one main number, 73% of calls being resolved at first point of contact and on-the-ground delivery teams picking up and resolving jobs in the field, hence delivering genuine value from Day One.
Ignite is a strategy, innovation and change consultancy with public service and social impact woven into the fabric of the work we do. In partnership with clients, we strive to make a meaningful difference to the lives of millions of people.
We create value through:
- Delivering strategic outcomes and focusing on impact
- Shaping customer-centric services
- Developing high performing and adaptable workforces
- Creating resilient and sustainable organisations that deliver on their promise
Our expertise is in strategy alignment, operating model design and implementation, customer and digital service design, change and transition management. We have successfully delivered 500+ projects for 150+ clients.
Our strapline ‘Ignite believe’ is founded on the principle that together Ignite and our clients can accomplish extraordinary things – and the results we have achieved are testament to this.
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