Choosing fewer channels: public service delivery options in an age of austerity

19 Apr 2011 11:42 AM


Self service channels will save costs, improve quality and focus greater support on vulnerable citizens who need it the most

The financial pressures currently faced by the public sector are so severe that public bodies are being compelled to shift to lower cost channels of service. According to a report launched yesterday by Deloitte, the public sector needs to emulate the corporate world by driving citizens towards ever cheaper and more efficient ways of doing business. The time is now right not just to open up new online channels, but to mandate their use and to restrict expensive channels to those people who really need them.

Joel Bellman, public sector director at Deloitte, comments: “While there are a number of notable successes of the public sector making use of technology to deliver services more effectively and efficiently (such as HMRC’s online self assessment and the DVLA’s car tax applications), the impact of new self-service channels has been limited.

“Over the last decade the public sector has often treated digital services as an add-on to traditional paper, telephone or face-to-face contact rather than a replacement for it. Only a fraction of the potential cost savings have been achieved. Public bodies today must launch new digital services with the intention of permanently cutting the demand citizens make of them, and shifting many citizens away from expensive assisted channels towards cheaper self-service ones.”

Deloitte’s report outlines a strategy for public bodies to use when considering their customer interactions, whereby citizens are empowered to serve themselves, with the most expensive channels reserved for those customers who are most vulnerable and in the most need.

Bellman continues: “We expect to see new digital services launched arm-in-arm with rationing of expensive channels across the public sector over the coming years. This trend varies by sector, but is widely applicable across taxation, benefit payment, local government, education, health, environment and social care. Not only will it improve services and save costs, but it will prevent vulnerable citizens from being crowded out of the support they need by citizens who are better able to serve themselves online.

“Public bodies cannot hope to reduce their costs and make this sustainable unless they change the way that they do business. A successful self service model genuinely allows public bodies to deliver more for less, and to sustain this year after year without costs creeping back up in the future.”

Critical factors driving success will be:

  1. Design change around specific transactions, rather than generic services, for example applications for school places, rather than more general services such as “school admission”;
  2. Build clear business cases with benefit realisation plans. Projects must include restricting access to assisted channels (and reorganising resources to fit this), not just granting access to self-service channels, in order for benefits to be realised;
  3. View e-government change as a programme portfolio. It is likely to be part of a wider cost reduction programme, and should be treated as such so that the emphasis on cost control remains a visible driver;
  4. Focus the public service ethos: don’t ask “is it right to restrict access”, but instead ask “is it right for the most vulnerable to be crowded out by those who could serve themselves”;
  5. Protect customer satisfaction and quality of service: these are critical to maintain political support when use of e-government channels is mandatory;
  6. Take great care with business process design – do not view e-government change as an IT project. These initiatives need to be led by high quality business process design, which is best undertaken by people who do not have vested interests in the status quo;
  7. Look at current service provision from 360 degrees. Take ideas from both a “top down” analysis (such as best practice concepts, Board Room strategies, subject matter experts and advisers) and a “bottom up” analysis (customer insight, suggestions from frontline staff, Lean / Six Sigma programmes);
  8. Design services once by collaborating on similar processes in different departments, and rolling out best practices across the country (e.g. standardising over time across Local Authorities on processes that work and don’t need to be tailored locally);
  9. Invest effort in building consensus around transactions that cut across bodies, and particularly those that transect Local and Central Government, where political and cultural barriers to cooperation have historically been a barrier to transformation.

About Deloitte

Deloitte LLP is the United Kingdom member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), a UK private company limited by guarantee, whose member firms are legally separate and independent entities.

Please see www.deloitte.co.uk/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of DTTL and its member firms.

The information contained in this press release is correct at the time of going to press.

Member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.