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2016: a year of stark choices

Working out just which way the winds will blow in the public sector this year is a topic that Paul Bradbury, group business development director at Civica mulls over

As we start 2016 the pace of change and expectation for public sector organisations is accelerating. In the recent Autumn Statement George Osborne confirmed support for the ‘devolution revolution’ that is taking place, allowing local authorities to take more ownership over decision making and place shaping in their local area. Indeed, Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland City Council recently stated that this is the most exciting time in local government for 30 years.

However, it will be interesting to see exactly where public sector organisations choose to focus their efforts over the next 12 months. Right now, it seems that public sector organisations face two alternate futures. They can either succeed with a clear vision to adapt to the new environment while finding millions of pounds of savings from already stretched budgets, coming out of next year fitter and stronger, or they can battle on against ever increasing pressures and ever decreasing circles.

Survival of the fittest

During the economic downturn, a number of not-quite-failed companies limped on as ghost firms, something venture capitalists noted was worse for the economy. Arguably the same thinking applies to public sector organisations – fundamentally challenged organisations are not only problematic but deleterious to places and communities overall. With combined authorities fast becoming one of the main games in town, perhaps the future for such is as an unwilling participant in sector reorganisation.

Leading from the front

The future for those who choose transformation seems very different, and it’s likely that this cohort will continue to make significant changes in 2016. Underlying this will be the ability to gain and take control of their own data, a strengthened focus on outcomes-based intervention, establishing protocols for an integrated, highly flexible workforce and enabling the public to self-serve through whichever channels they deem most convenient. All these themes featured as key initiatives for delivering integrated services by 2025 in our Changing Landscape Report.

1) Gaining control of their data

Public services are awash with data. Many organisations up and down the country are struggling with the mounting cost and effort of maintaining increasingly complex systems and collecting the same data multiple times. Adopting a ‘whole area approach’ to identify and avoid duplication, draw out insights and create predictive services will emerge as a key priority over the coming year. Part of this will involve soliciting public permission to share, through earning their trust and data sharing incentives, and using predictive services to support local communities, based on real-world demands. In essence, 2016 will be the year public sector organisations increase their IQ in data.

With this in mind, public sector organisations will also need to have robust security measures in place. There is a need to ensure the correct structures and fail safe options are in place to avoid data loss, reputational damage and even a hefty fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

In 2016 the majority of public sector organisations will either build up their own internal knowledge or enter into strategic partnerships with experts in navigating cloud architectures, to make cloud computing a secure and advantageous route to modernisation.

2)  Becoming a self-service nation

While local public services have made great steps in streamlining services and achieving efficiencies, there remains a great deal of scope to achieve more.  In our report, Enabling a New World of Public Service Delivery, Stuart Mitchenall, Surrey chief IT officers & head of business support, Tandridge District Council, commented, “80% of the population’s needs can probably be addressed by one model, with the remaining 20% served by an exception model.”

“Channel shift” is an imperative here. The bulk of public needs should be resolved through digital means. This isn’t just about cutting costs – but meeting customers’ expectations in an increasingly digitised environment where savings are a by-product of delivering improved services and greater customer satisfaction.

There are plenty of examples to show that when public services empower citizens through self-service, organisational and societal benefits quickly follow. For instance, Harrow Council developed a fully integrated digital customer account to enable customers to transact with the council in a completely new and enriching way. Many more will come to the fore in 2016.

3) Focusing on outcomes-based intervention

Given that the government must find another £30m in efficiency cuts, urgent, wholesale change is an imperative. For many, this will involve adopting a culture that is focused on outcome-based intervention and the reorganisation of public services around customer demand.

This approach will allow changes to be made to the role of the shrinking state, and in particular it will increase the focus for local government on the economic growth agenda and how they drive local economy and “place-shaping” as key aspects under devolution. A key part of this will be enabling the public to liaise with their local authority through the means and devices that they wish.

Part of this approach will require creating a safe, blame-free environment, in which people can experiment and develop prototypes outside of the current delivery model. Across the board, automation is key. Expect many more public sector organisations to replace manual processes with intelligent systems and make outcome-based intervention part of their organisation’s DNA.

4) Establishing protocols for a new, highly flexible workforce model 

‘Leasing’ goods and services is an upward trend. In 2016, I predict that we’ll see more public sector organisations ‘lease’ their workforce – especially during times of dire need. By taking this approach and dialling up and down capacity as needed, they will inject greater resilience into their operations.

Accessing OnDemand services to address backlogs, manage peaks in activity and process workloads at short notice without having to buy-in onsite expertise will give organisations the flexibility they need to cope with both short and longer term fluctuations in demand over the coming 12-18 months.

This year public sector organisations will face a myriad of intractable challenges, from a lack of social care funding, an acute housing crisis to a shortage of school places and funding for disadvantaged pupils. For many organisations that are struggling under the current austerity measures, next year will be one of action and it’s worth always bearing in mind that the best way to get the future you prefer is to lead the pack and create it for yourself.

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