How ambitious could your organisation be in using technology to deliver better public services?

Paul Taylor @PaulBromford, from Bromford Housing, has blogged for us ahead of our ‘Inspiring public services to deliver independence and well-being through digital ambition’ seminar on 5 and 14 June. Read on to find out more about digital change, the cultural barriers and breaking free from the shackles…

We live in exceptional times.

For £50 or less you can buy an Android tablet at your local supermarket. It won’t be the most sophisticated bit of technology on the market – but it will give you access to an internet supporting half the earth’s population.

Over 3 billion people are online, sharing news, forming new communities, chronicling the history of our planet, and shaping its future. Yet, public sector organisations are still relatively slow at adapting to the opportunities of digital technology.

So if people can change their lives with a piece of kit costing £50, why are organisations spending huge amounts of time and resources on ‘digital transformations’ that often don’t achieve their objectives?

The problem is that digital change requires a completely different mindset not just skill-set. Today our customers are bombarded with thousands of pieces of information every single day, and their attention span has deteriorated rapidly.

Redesigning our services around them is more cultural than technological. It means we need to adopt different organisational behaviours.

I see a few cultural barriers we need to get over if we are to keep up with the expectations of our citizens and communities:

  • Organisations are still over-thinking digital and being cautious – waiting for the landscape to settle before they decide what they do. Arguably this ‘wait and see’ option is more ‘wait and die’.
  • Sometimes we are simply taking existing ways of working and digitising them – effectively just transferring today’s problems to another platform.
  • Some are resisting change because they think talk of artificial intelligence will upset their staff or their users – as if somehow their staff and users live in a parallel universe where Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google don’t exist.
  • And there are those who see digital purely as an opportunity to cut costs. Short term thinking rather than seeing it as an investment in your future.

It sounds simplistic – but a lot of these barriers could be negotiated if we just started with the user and shaped our digital offer around the relationship they need.

At Bromford we have launched an approach that we call Neighbourhood Coaching. It’s the result of all the testing , piloting and exploring we’ve been doing over the past seven years. The learning from all these pilots has brought us to an overriding conclusion: we can have the most impact with our communities when we truly get to know them and are freed from the shackles of how we used to do things.

Those shackles include silo working, restrictive policies, a reliance on contact centres and customer relationship ‘management’ software.

The opportunity for us is to support the right relationship with the right technology – where digital becomes an enabler to a greater purpose. For us that’s less about Bromford as the end destination and more as Bromford as a platform for connecting people to achieve what they want.

Some of this will be achieved by digital tools and some of this won’t. Our learning has been the approach is best formed by just getting technology into the hands of our colleagues and customers and trying things out in a low cost, low risk way.

Most of us can’t tell if we like something or not by reading about it. We need to see it, feel it and experience it. That’s why we focus on what we call ‘tests’. Tests are typically time-limited, minimal resource and therefore low risk. An example might be mocking something up, like a web page, and asking customers what they think, or giving them access to Amazon Alexa and seeing what they get out of it. The whole principle is to get things in front of people as soon as possible to reduce spending time and money on expensive failures.

How ambitious could your organisation be in using technology to deliver better public services?

The answer is with your customers and users – and it will probably be a lot less complicated than you imagine.

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