Customer service in the public sector: what are the next steps?

Customer service in the public sector: what are the next steps?

In the ten years since the beginning of the financial crash, a plethora of new regulations have been introduced and banks have been penalised for their irresponsible behavior. However, we are yet to see a similar level of organisational change in the UK’s Public Sector. For the last decade, irrespective of political party in charge, whether an outright majority is held or whether we have decided to remain in or opt out of the European Union, the following drivers for change remain in place:

1) the need to reduce operational cost of service provision

2) the need to react quickly to the dynamic nature of service demand and political necessities

3) the changing nature, level and way citizens and business want to be served

At an international level, the way that government agencies have reacted to these difficulties has been quite varied, with some achieving more success than others. One unique challenge that the UK has experienced is the fact that the government and the service it provides has an enormous historical legacy to contend with. UK Government service provision can be traced back to over 400 years ago with basic services such as defense of the realm and law and order. Service demand has gradually increased, with some 40% of GDP now spent on the provision of public services. This evolution of service and provider has resulted in a complex group of processes, policies and organisations, that make transformation particularly challenging. If we were to wipe the slate clean, we would choose a very different starting point!

Both the UK Government and technology sector that serves it have identified the need for change to make it easier for citizens to interact with government using any channel. The Government Digital Services (GDS) has had a disruptive part to play in the way new policies and procedures are implemented. and have been strong advocates of the agile approach to change. An equally strong advocate of the agile approach, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has introduced new procurement frameworks, such as G-Cloud. Providing pre-negotiated terms and conditions, service definitions and prices for cloud based solutions and services use, has effectively reduced the procurement cycle. Finally, cloud-based solutions are becoming ubiquitous throughout the public sector.

Despite great progress in accelerating the procurement process, other challenges remain that must be addressed.

Firstly, the way government departments deal with their legacy estates and the need to reduce costs during times of austerity is stuck in the dark ages. They are failing to deal with the rapidly changing and diverse service demands of politicians and constituents. Today’s constituents expect a similar level of service from government bodies to the service they get when engaging with their bank or online retailer such as Amazon.

Previously, there were only two choices for agencies and systems integrators serving the government to help modernise their operations, and neither have an especially good track record. But as technology has advanced, organisations have more options. The three types of enterprise platforms they should consider are:

  1. Development Toolsets (e.g. Java Enterprise)
  2. Systems of Record (e.g. SAP ERP)
  3. Unified Enterprise Platforms (that can spawn several different solutions using the same platform, prebuilt applications, and underlying tools)

But which is best suited to the needs of the public sector? Custom solutions have their place when the need is esoteric, however, they are not suitable for an environment with multiple changing needs that have to be addressed in a timely, cost-effective, way. Systems of Record have a place in command and control situations, but that’s not where public policy exists. The dynamic policy ecosystem is constantly evolving and Systems of Record are not the best choice, because the government’s needs are dynamic and prone to change.

To build and manage government applications, the most appropriate option is clear. The tools provided by a Unified Enterprise Platform and the G-Cloud 9 platform, mean that organisations can easily migrate to this service. However, as all application platforms are built slightly differently, when using this type of platform, it is important to consider the time to value and the ability to change as policy develops.

Constituents deserve and expect excellent service when dealing with the public sector, but there is still a way to go. To meet numerous similar, but not identical requirements, change should be applied incrementally, using Unified Enterprise Platforms that can deliver single solutions. These platforms are currently available, but when making the choice as to which one is most suitable, caution must be taken to select one that is built using the most up-to-date IT capabilities on the market, which can be modernised quickly and easily adjusted in the future to deal with any policy changes.

 

By Peter Ford, the Public-Sector Industry Principal at Pegasystems, a global software company that provides strategic applications. Pegasystems are members of the G-Cloud 9 Framework for Cloud Software as a Service and Cloud Support.