Public sector organisations have been told for years that they must do more with less. With figures showing that departmental budgets will face cuts up to £12 billion by 2020, the pressure to increase workforce efficiency and reduce spending is clearly tremendous.
To help squeeze value out of shrinking resources, many leaders from local authorities, including health and social care teams, are focused on finding ways to make their remote workers more productive; in fact, to demonstrate just how important it’s become, there is an entire conference dedicated to exploring the best ways to drive forward mobile working strategies in the sector.
Evidently, many in the public sector recognise the savings and increased efficiency that come hand-in-hand with a mobile workforce. For example, using technology that can allow a care worker to receive work schedules on their mobile device, rather than sending out a paper copy, can save a council hundreds of thousands of pounds in postage alone. And having a mobile solution for road repairs and maintenance workers can save on travel time, by providing them with information about upcoming jobs, without having to return to the office unnecessarily. It can also let them feed back updates about potential delays on a job remotely, meaning that any issues can be identified and acted on earlier. Simple efficiencies such as these can add up to huge savings.
The problem comes in the form of data access
While it may be true that this way of working can bring in sweeping savings for government organisations, the sector is still finding itself hamstrung by serious challenges when it comes to accessing the data needed to make a mobile workforce a reality. Getting access to data is core to delivering an employee-facing solution, whether that’s an app or dashboard loaded to their phone or tablet, yet it’s often one of the first hurdles at which organisations fall.
To create a mobile solution, public sector organisations must be able to integrate data from a range of sources. For example, complex customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and electronic document and records management (EDRM) systems must all be navigated and mined for relevant information, which then needs to be fed into the end-users’ mobile application.
When APIs aren’t an option
These data sources are often controlled by big industry players, such as Oracle and SAP, along with other third parties. And this is where one of the largest challenges comes into play. While the multi-national brands do provide application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow for data to be extracted and used for developing a mobile solution, getting access to the APIs can often be prohibitively expensive. What’s more, for those organisations that operate bespoke IT systems, many will simply not have the capabilities to support the necessary API integration. Clearly, getting access to data via third-party APIs is a complex task; and, understandably, one that many public bodies often struggle with.
Modernisation is the key to going mobile
Thankfully, when gaining access to APIs proves far too difficult or far too costly, there are solutions that can make it possible to build services and apps without the need of a third-party API. For example, rather than having to plug directly into a CRM system operated by SAP, a piece of software can record the back-end calls made when using existing systems, and transform them into new APIs. These APIs can then be accessed to build a fresh, modern web or mobile interface, without the need of having the original source code. Having the ability to automatically extract and synchronise data across all systems without disturbing the existing database, public sector organisations can more easily modernise and extend any incumbent application to work on mobile devices including smartphones and tablets.
Mobilisation can only be a good thing
We have a more mobile workforce than ever before, with a wide range of public services relying on the ability to work on the move. To support this, IT leaders must look to solutions that can extend the life of existing technology systems, rather than completely overhauling applications in the hope of achieving a magic bullet solution to cut costs. Accessing the data needed to support mobile working doesn’t need to involve drastically changing the way you use technology. In the face of tightening purse strings, the public sector must recognise that the real benefits will come with modernising the systems that are already in place.
By Richard Whomes, director sales engineering, Rocket Software