Cloud offers the public sector an opportunity to put users back at the heart of the procurement process, according to Chris Wilson, managing director of adam – but only if they also change their culture to one where sharing information is welcomed rather than feared.
Public sector bodies are typically large and complex organisations, and each has evolved specific ways of working over many years. When introducing new technology, they have a tendency to try to simply automate existing processes. If something cannot easily be slotted into ‘the way we do things here’, they can be reluctant make the switch.
Recent research has also identified a view that some services are simply too complex for technology to make a difference. In a report into digital leadership in local government earlier this year, written by the Local Government Information Unit, less than half the respondents felt that technology could have a positive impact on complex services.
In our experience, this is one of the reasons that local authorities have been reluctant to adopt cloud. Its benefits are well known, including scalability and the ability to access information from any location on any device. Remote working is of course particularly beneficial in areas such as social care when time is of the essence, enabling information to be accessed and action was taken without the need to go into the office
Having a cloud-based service also has security benefits. If there is an issue with their network, staff can continue to work relatively uninterrupted, while the service provider also ensures that all staff are running on the latest version of applications, with all patches applied and management taken care of.
However, gaining these benefits means redesigning processes first to take advantage of the new way of working. If the processes themselves are not functioning well, simply adding a cloud or any other technology certainly will not fix the problem.
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This does not mean taking staff out of the process. Using cloud for complex services is about speeding up routine administrative tasks and enabling staff to focus on value-added activities that make an impact on people’s lives. With demand for local authority services higher than ever and scrutiny of their performance more intense, it is inefficient to continue doing things in the same way as before. Cloud enables people to work better, more efficiently and in a more informed manner.
In the area we work in, commissioning, the cloud provides an opportunity to put users back at the heart of complex processes, removing the administrative burden and enabling rapid commissioning of better quality, personalised care. Local authorities can find the services they need quickly and efficiently, based on service details, quality and location, not just cost. The result is faster access to better and more tailored care for users; better use of staff and resources for commissioners and the freeing up of hospital beds as patients can be discharged quickly and safely to appropriate care at home.
However, working in this way also requires a change in culture, and this can be even more challenging than changing processes. Data stored securely in the cloud can be accessed by any authorised person on any device at any time, and this enables local authorities to share information more widely than they have done before, both across departments and with third parties in the public and private sectors. In our experience, sharing data is something that many in the public sector like as a concept, and when it happens it works well, but all too often they cannot bring themselves to do it.
Information sharing and collaboration were discussed extensively at July’s National Commissioning and Contracting Training Conference for Children’s Commissioners (NCCTC), which brought together commissioners, providers, governing bodies and regulatory authorities. Everyone seemed to agree that improving children and young people’s services required the collective efforts of social care, education, health and other services, but currently, there is little collaboration between them.
Cloud can facilitate this type of collaboration – but only if the culture changes first, and there is a willingness to share information. We have helped local authorities share data with each other and with service providers in areas such as social care and transport. The result has been significant benefits for all concerned, including transparency, cost savings and improved future planning.
One example is the South London SEN Commissioning Group (SLC). Their ten-borough partnership has been in place for over a year and has transformed their approach to commissioning services for children and young adults with Special educational Needs (SEN). In that time, using an integrated commissioning solution, they have made over £1m savings, have nurtured their provider base to over 100 suppliers and can evidence that the services commissioned to meet the service requirements and deliver outcomes to service users, all while juggling the conflicting legislation.
The public sector is in a state of unprecedented austerity where the vast majority, if not all, of the councils we speak to have budgets (and cuts) as their number one priority. If councils do not find truly innovative ways to run processes and deliver services, this problem will only become worse. To do more with less, local authorities need to embrace technologies such as cloud. However, they will only achieve the full benefits if they change their processes to take advantage of the efficiencies and other benefits that cloud provides and change their culture to one where information sharing is welcomed, not feared.