Imagine you’re a bobby on the beat. Would you like to spend an hour a) writing up your day’s notes at the police station or b) out on the beat? I’m guessing that most people will answer b. No one joins the police force to fill in forms.
You can swap police officer for practically any council job from teacher to social worker and the answer will remain the same. Very few of us look forward to routine admin tasks, such as filling in expenses forms or writing up notes from meetings. It’s dull, repetitive and time-consuming.
Yet a lot of council staff's time is spent filling in paper forms and using shonky software – often transferring their handwritten notes onto the shonky software that is unable to share or use that information effectively.
It really doesn’t have to be that way. A revolution is afoot that can make work life so much better for council workers, improve service to citizens and save money to boot.
A typical scenario
The situation at Surrey Council a few years ago is typical. The council’s 200 or so social workers had to drive into the office once a week and transcribe their paper notes from their home visits onto a central SAP system.
Some 200 hours a week were wasted as these highly qualified employees, already over-burdened with heavy caseloads, travelled to a central office to carry out essential but dull admin. It was time that could be better spent helping more vulnerable people. All it took to claw back that time was to arm the social workers with a simple mobile device. This meant they could directly write up their notes while they were in the field instead of returning to the office. While they’re at it, they can book holiday, or input the time they’ve spent with a particular family.
A simple, elegant solution that benefits all.
Going back to the bobby on the beat, imagine a scenario where the police station can pinpoint the location of all its officers automatically. It is able to allocate the nearest officers to incidents by tracking them through their mobile devices.
Social workers can write up their notes using a mobile device, book holiday time, or input how long they’ve spent with a particular family, all without returning to the office and filling in a form.
There is another aspect to this. Employers have a duty of care to their workers. Tracking their phone or car through GPS means you know where they are at all times. Oh, and don’t forget the ability to submit mileage claims as simply as pressing a start and finish journey button on a mobile – that’s real digital disruption at play.
There are many similar examples where a simple piece of technology can greatly improve efficiencies.
This in itself should be enough to prompt councils to act, but there’s another influence prodding them to respond. The stays on their budgets are being pulled suffocatingly tight as they face 40% cuts in spending power.
How can they continue to deliver services to a public with ever-higher expectations but fewer resources?
Investing in technology is an elegant answer to the problem. But there’s a real danger that they may take another course.
Forced to quickly find cost savings, they could easily choose to outsource as many services as possible. There are private-sector firms a plenty willing to pick off services such as waste collection from councils with the promise of delivering the same service for less money.
In that scenario, you could end up with a drastically reduced council with a skeletal staff, basically acts as a puppeteer managing vast numbers of private contracts. But is that really ultimately what citizens want?
Like it or not, it’s a solution that’s already beginning to gain traction in councils across the country.
But through smart investment in technology, councils can save money and improve efficiencies, not least by reducing the amount of physical office space they require.
With staff able to access all the office services they need from their mobile device while out in the field, and equally update central office from their location, there simply isn’t the requirement for a large central resource. It’s a sharp U-turn on policies a few years ago, when it was all the rage for councils to enter PFI agreements with private firms to build council offices. What’s needed now is less office space and more connected workers.
You can bet that the way the private companies deliver cheaper services is through using technology to drive efficiencies, so why shouldn’t councils cut out the middleman and do that themselves?
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