Service transformation: Beyond the digital journey

Service transformation is vital to local government faced with ever-decreasing budgets. But, argues Gary Bell of Civica, too much time has been focused on simply moving services online at the expense of enabling services across all channels. 

EACH YEAR, new data is released that shows customer service and the customer experience are more important than ever. According to Forrester, 72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority. And it's not just the private sector that is sitting up and taking note. The public sector, you could argue, is in an even tighter spot, as it's faced with the challenge of significantly improving service delivery and customer experience but with ever-dwindling budgets.

As the new report, Delivering Sustainable Transformation in the UK Public Sector, from GlobalData and Civica describes, public expenditure has fallen 5% as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since 2010-11. Public sector bodies of all shapes and sizes are now wrestling two universal challenges. The first is the rapidly evolving demands of the end user, as the way people interact with the public sector changes together with their expectations. The second is continuously shrinking budgets, which means working smarter and transforming the way services are delivered is crucial to success in this new environment.

Adopting the right culture to see the tough times through

Making the business case for service transformation projects is often the first step, but many don't know where to start. Often there is no shortage of great ideas but many organisations need help selling the business case into the rest of the organisation, so many ideas remain as just that and don't see the light of day.

Public services recognise the need for a change of culture. However, due to public scrutiny, many public sector leaders are inherently risk averse. By creating a collaborative culture, organisations can ensure that transformation projects are embraced as a collective mission, rather than one which is governed from on-high. Working with trusted service providers also plays a fundamental role, helping to support the wider organisation in terms of providing the additional resources and skills needed to push forward the transformation without significant impact to day-to-day activities.

Moving online is just one step

Gary Bell, Civica.Over the last few years, too much time has been spent focusing on simply moving services online, without looking at the bigger picture. Hosting services online isn't the be all and end all; it's about how you deliver these services and how seamless you make the customer experience. If organisations want to deliver sustainable transformation, they need to transform and integrate service delivery from end-to-end, through the entire service journey, not just the front-end.

The key to delivering this effectively lies not only in embracing new technologies and digitising services but also in adopting new approaches to collaboration and partnerships, and in making a commitment to address transformation holistically. But this isn't the only issue that public sector bodies must contend with. They have made huge investments in existing or legacy systems. Surveys from GlobalData show that maintaining existing IT infrastructure accounts for at least two-thirds of the overall ICT budget within an organisation.

As much as it would be nice to be able to update and modernise the existing infrastructure quickly, this often isn't an option. However, this doesn't necessarily call for an aggressive "rip and replace" strategy.

Gloucester City Council is currently pursuing a programme of legacy transformation by taking a step-by-step approach to the modernisation of its core apps and infrastructure. In many cases, these mature applications (as opposed to infrastructure) do a very good job and it should be recognised that transformation is still possible if they're retained - the key is to ensure they can integrate with new systems. Use of new technologies like cloud computing can provide an agile and cost-efficient foundation for the transformation of legacy infrastructure and use of hybrid environments can support a phased approach.

One size does not fit all

However, before you start amending your infrastructure, you have to look at the individual needs of your organisation to devise the right strategy. Transformation projects have to be "omni-channel" rather than just "digital". They have to offer the same level and quality of service via traditional channels as they do through more modern channels.

One example of a successful transformation is the London Borough of Harrow, which ran an omni-channel customer transformation project that resulted in resolution of 91% of customer contact across all channels at first point of contact. This led to savings of £2m taken out of customer services budget since 2010 and 80% of transactions completed via self-service.

And we cannot forget the power of mobile. Most citizens today get online through their mobile rather than a traditional desktop browser, reinforcing the principle that "web enablement" shouldn't be the goal - the goal should be to enable services for every channel.

While service transformation remains an imperative throughout the public sector, it's crucial that public sector leaders don't focus all efforts on the digital journey and channel shift. They must look at the whole service journey and identify what will make the most difference to their citizens and employees. Transformation is not a buzzword, nor is it a passing fad; transformation is fundamental to the way we will deliver and improve public services in the UK.

Gary Bell is executive director of outsourcing at Civica.