13 Years of leaving Customers Better Equipped

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News & Updates

This month Alpine achieved 11 years of intelligent resourcing and public sector support, leaving our clients better equipped to face change. To celebrate, we have a series of 11 opinion pieces highlighting leadership and workforce challenges for the sector. This week, Ruby Dixon of Alpine and Alec Hartopp of LB Camden discuss the Council’s visionary interpretation of agile working.

Budget cuts have prompted councils to set up shared services arrangements, and seen them outsourced key contracts and functions for goods and services worth over £60 billion a year.

Despite recently reduced staffing levels, local government still employs over 1.4m people.

Yet councils are facing further funding constants. Chief Executives are wary as cuts start to affect front-line services, choice and council capacity. Managers and elected members alike know that fundamental changes are required if local government is to survive and remain relevant.

A council’s uniqueness lies in the accountability of: democratic mandate, statutory duties, and financial probity. Yet as business centres, they share a lot with the private sector. A recent survey (The Times, 2014) indicated that for businesses three key barriers to change are: not enough funding; culture (stickiness to change); and information technology. Research indicates that councils also often cite these factors. These obstacles have to be overcome if strategic transformation is to be achieved.

Increased customer expectation is a key driver for councils. Demand for many public services is increasing (e.g. local welfare provision, adult social care, children and young people’s services), requiring better use of integrated technology and maximising workforce talent to realise new ways of working to ‘deliver more and better for less’.

Implemented well, technology can deliver convenience, a better customer experience, less frequent but more enhanced interaction by the citizens, and increased productivity of workers. These are key characteristics of not only of a lean organisation – but also an agile one.

It has been said that ‘agile is a mindset’, and nowhere is this more true than Camden Council’s award winning new St Pancras Square development. This all about agility – but it is driven by vision. By utilising technology as a transformational tool, Camden Council has moved everyday job practices from fixed analogue to portable digital, from paper to e-archiving; from single desk to hot desking, from multi-agency meetings to video conferencing, backed by personal agility packs for working anywhere. Office space has been reduced down from 15 to 4 central London buildings, housing 2400 employees who now work flexibly (alec.hartopp@camden.gov.uk).

Capita estimates that in central London, each employee’s desk in probably costs £6-8k; Similarly, Age Future Forum suggests that agile working can save up to 7% in workforce costs. Camden’s vision is not only environmentally sustainable, the asset management approach makes economic sense because it is self funding and saves the tax payer up to £4.5m a year.

The benefits are also felt by their staff. In the past, work played a central role in our lives but since 2005 this has reduced. Now, over a third of us want more flexibility to the way we work – be that hours, working from home, or the technological tools of the trade. Some workers desire flexibility rather not more money – many want to be allowed to work from home rather than 10% more in pay packet (see timewise.org.uk).

Both elected members and managers understood that to keep good staff, they have to give them the most appropriate tools to work effectively. Camden council uses technology to allow staff to self-service, analyse information for timely decision making, communicate and collaborate with each other and the public via social media.

But managers face challenges in understanding behaviours: younger employees expect flatter structures with direct engagement to senior managers; their communication habits are collaboration-based (often skipping email completely, preferring instead the immediacy of texts/chat/ and face time) so their demands for apps and mobile interoperability is higher.

Ensuring organisations possess the right skills for the ‘second wave tec’ revolution (cloud based, Big data and increased portability) is crucial. The trick is combining what councils need to retain quality and relevance (agility), with how customers and staff want it delivered (flexibility). This will help council services move from siloed delivery units towards multi-skilled teams for innovation, to ensure accessibility and excellence for customer, with the public pound.

Ruby Dixon is Head of Local Government at Alpine; Alec Hartopp is ICT Flexible Working Programme Manager at London Borough of Camden. They are both members of Socitm London network. Contact Ruby at: rdixon@alpine.eu.com or on 07428 018369 or Alec at: alec.hartopp@camden.gov.uk or ring 020 7974 1336.


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