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O2: Mobile tech. in the public sector

By [email protected] - 14th December 2006 - 09:32

White Paper on mobile technology usage in the public sector13 December 2006Executive summaryMobile technologies offer the potential both to streamline and improve services in the public sector, and to open up new channels of communications between citizens and the services they depend on.More reliable and cheaper devices and networks are boosting the take up of mobile working in the UK public sector, and there are some strong examples of good practice. But obstacles remain, including the fragmented nature of many public sector IT systems, the small size of many mobile projects and âpeople issuesâ which affect service take up.Both Government and the mobile communications industry needs to take a stronger lead in order to promote the benefits, and increase the take up, of mobile services.
Contents· Overview· Drivers for greater mobile usage· Areas of opportunity· Summary of existing mobile solutions· Barriers to adoption· Building a business case· Conclusions· O2âs responseMethodologyThis white paper was compiled from a mix of telephone interviews and written submissions from more than 40 local government, central government and health service bodies, as well as from interviews with industry experts. The research took place in November 2006 among public sector bodies in England, Wales and Scotland.O2 would like to thank the CIOs and ICT managers who participated: this research would not have been possible without their help.OverviewThe last three to four years has seen a transformation of the way organisations â in both the private and public sectors â use mobile information technology.The arrival of faster, 2.5G and 3G mobile networks, the growing uptake of data-compatible devices such as smart phones, and the need to streamline business processes have all moved the focus away from the mobile phone as just a voice device to one that also supports email and other data-centric communication, as well as providing access to business applications.In the public sector, mobile technology also offers government departments, councils and healthcare providers a valuable alternative means of communicating with citizens. A number of public sector organisations have successfully deployed technologies such as text messaging (SMS) for applications ranging from sending Council Tax reminders to allowing local people to report graffiti or abandoned vehicles.Several programmes have also used SMS to reach out to groups, especially younger people, who might be more willing to communicate with their council through text messaging than through more conventional channels.Mixed national pictureAlthough there are many clear examples of innovative use of mobile technologies in the public sector, the national picture remains more mixed.National projects, notably Project Nomad, have spurred local authorities and health care providers to experiment with mobile data services and to redesign business processes; it is being very much left to organisations on the ground to work out their own deployment scenarios and attempt to predict their own returns on investment.This has led to a fragmentation of services, with authorities not always able to communicate with neighbours, or in some cases, between departments. The flow of information from district to county council and on to central government is, in some cases, hampered by incompatible systems with incomplete coverage.This might not matter in all circumstances: in many cases â especially in authority to citizen projects - a local solution is the best or even the only suitable way forward. But in others, a degree of standardisation would improve inter-authority communication and quite possibly reduce costs and provide better services to local people.Drivers for greater mobile usageThe diversity of the public sector organisations surveyed for this white paper â including unitary, district and county councils, central government departments and NHS Trusts â means that the drivers for mobile projects are necessarily as diverse as the solutions.None the less, it is possible to highlight a number of factors that are encouraging live deployments, as well as a growing number of pilots and feasibility studies:· Falling costs of mobile devices and airtime coverage; increasing reach and improved reliability of 2.5G, 3G and EDGE networks;· A wider number of relevant references from other organisations, both from elsewhere in the public sector and from the commercial world;· The need to cut incident response times for some services (especially field based services including social care, highway maintenance and environmental health);· The need to deliver best value to citizens, patients and other stakeholders; the use of mobile technology features in several local councilsâ Best Value statements;· The move from manual to electronic processes, increasingly based around a central âenterpriseâ system, and the ability to extend those processes to a mobile or field-based worker via a mobile device;· Awareness of the need for work-life balance among public sector staff; in some cases the need to encourage more flexible working patterns in order to provide better services to citizens; the need to ensure greater protection for lone workers;· A move away from one or two channels for access to many local services (usually face to face and telephone) to multi-mode access including the Web and SMS.The case for a project is often driven by several of these factors. But there is also a clear ânetwork effectâ observable, especially in local authority workplace mobile deployments: a successful project in one authority prompts similar trials and pilots among others.Areas of opportunityInternal projectsWithin the public sector, key focus areas for mobile technology include improvements to workflows, cutting travel time for council or department employees, and supporting flexible working.Local councils, in particular, have large numbers of field-based workers and staff employed in small local offices. Councils can drive significant efficiencies by allowing these employees to complete work âin the fieldâ, speeding up processes notably.One council, for example, estimates that a quarter of its desk-based staff undertake home or site visits.In a number of organisations, there have been significant benefits from relatively simple projects. A common example is using âpushâ technology to send automatic appointment and calendar updates to staff in the field.This cuts down on the need for field-based staff to phone a call centre for job updates, improving their efficiency and potentially allowing call centre staff to be deployed on other work.Time savingsToday, significant numbers of public sector staff spend substantial amounts of time travelling to and from a central office in order to complete job tickets, reports and other paperwork. Even where business processes are supported by a computer-based application, much data is still gathered manually and then inputted into the management system after the event.Mobilising such applications brings the additional benefit of allowing managers, citizens, clients and patients to track tasks as they are done. A problem, such as an abandoned car, might be fixed soon after a member of the public alerts the authority but because much of the reporting is still manual, it may be several days before the citizen can check for an update.In some areas of local government and health, there are also tangible benefits from bringing decisions closer to the user.Social care and benefits assessments are two areas where councils have deployed mobile technologies, usually based around laptop computers, that allow officials to make decisions during a meeting with the client, check all relevant paperwork and even print out details. Such initiatives are also being extended to business-focused services such as environmental health.The first wave of such projects, however, are mostly centred around offline processing of information by devices such as laptops that are not connected to a wide area network.Public sector organisations could drive further benefits, including quicker processing and paperwork reduction, by allowing field workers to synchronise their data with central computer systems over mobile, WiFi or possibly WiMax networks.The opportunities might be more limited in central government due to the smaller percentage of field-based staff and, in some departments, because of security concerns.None-the-less, one government agency surveyed said 80 per cent of staff were either mobile workers or spent significant time out of the office. In a central government ministry, however, that proportion was far lower, at 30 per cent.Citizen-facing projectsAll the local government bodies surveyed had either undertaken or considered initiatives to use technology, including Internet and mobile technology, to improve communications with clients, patients or citizens.Potentially, such services allow councils and other local services to appear less remote by opening up a new communications channel to citizens. There is also considerable interest in using mobile technology to allow people to pay for some lower-value services through a mobile phone. Parking is a particular area of focus for councils.Some authorities are looking at ways of encouraging local people to report problems to the council by text or even, potentially, picture messages. There is, though, still work that needs to be done to ensure such services are affordable to the citizen and to connect the incoming messages to existing workflows.In health, hospitals and other primary care providers are using SMS to send appointment reminders (and cancellations) to patients. As missed appointments represent a significant cost to the NHS, such initiatives could quickly repay their cost, if they do actually reduce the number of âno showsâ.Summary of existing mobile solutionsInternal processesAll the CIOs surveyed for this paper had undertaken at least a pilot project on mobile working, mobile email or extending a âbusinessâ application to a mobile device platform.The most common applications were mobile data access, usually via a laptop and data card but occasionally using a mobile phone with a wired or Bluetooth connection, and the use of mobile email and calendar functions.Of the mobile devices, BlackBerry email handhelds were the most commonly used for general management, for support functions (especially IT) and for use by elected members (councillors), trustees and board members. Windows Mobile devices are found more often among employees working with task-specific applications, who need to access central management or business applications, or who need ruggedised equipment.Smart phones, on a number of platforms including Symbian and Windows Mobile, are being used increasingly in government, not least because of the wider choice of handsets available. Some respondents cited the need to deploy a device that did not appear particularly valuable as an important selection criterion. In the case of all mobile projects, the ability to wipe data from a device remotely was also a plus in many organisations â although such techniques are not widely used with laptop computers.Drivers for projectsA commitment to delivering better value to tax payers was a driver in most projects, as was a desire to speed up processes â delivering quicker decisions to service users â and attempting to âstretchâ the resources of small teams.Increasingly, councils especially are looking at technology -- including mobile technology - as a way to help them meet a growing demand for their services. With operational budgets under pressure, flexible working technologies are one way for organisations to move more staff into âfront lineâ roles.Citizen-facing projectsThe most commonly used technology for citizen-facing applications, according to the organisations surveyed, is text messaging.SMS is seen as a valuable communications channel, especially for reaching younger patients and citizens. The most common projects included appointment reminders, reminders for local people to pay bills such as Council Tax, and facilities to report problems to councils (mostly around street scene and environmental issues).In many, but not all cases, mobile services replicated services already offered via email or the Internet.A number of councils have introduced, or are looking to pilot, small-scale âm-commerceâ projects. Payment for parking in particular is popular (mobile payments are already in use for the London congestion charge and other authorities looking at congestion charging are also looking at mobile payments.In some aspects of the public sector, such as health and social care, projects are both citizen facing and set out to improve operational efficiency.Potentially, this could be one of the most interesting applications for mobility in the public sector, as the ability to solve problems or meet citizensâ needs âon the spotâ is both more efficient, and directly beneficial to the service user or client.Separate research carried out by YouGov for O2 found a high level of awareness of the mobile Internet, especially among younger people. As many as 58 per cent of people surveyed said that they had an Internet-enabled mobile phone.This presents an opportunity for public sector organisations to develop a new channel for interaction with their stakeholders.Examples of current mobile initiatives:Kent Ambulance Trust: Lone worker protectionStaff in the Kent Ambulance Service frequently find themselves working alone. This prompted the NHS Trust to introduce mobile technology, in order to give employees a fast way to call for help.The devices give the location of the member of staff, as well as recording audio of any event. The control room can then send for help.âThe safety of our staff is very important,â says fleet manager, Dave Tappenden. âThese devices and the People Locator service will hopefully allow our fleet staff to feel safe in the knowledge that if they should have an accident, help is just a button away.âLondon Borough of Barnet: PDAs in social careThe London borough of Barnet is one of the first councils to give its social care workers wireless PDAs. Over 200 social workers use the handheld PCs for email, diary management and sharing information.Social workers who once had to return to the office for their administrative tasks were free to spend more face-to-face time with children and families, while maintaining a constant flow of information with the office and other workers.âWe chose a mobile solution alongside a more traditional PC-based solution because of costs, ease of implementation and what we wanted it to achieve,â says Tony Nakhimoff, Divisional Manager in Barnet Councilâs Children and Families Service.âAlready we have seen significant improvement in productivity and information sharing within the service. Social workers now have better access to information they need to be able to make decisions and do their job properly.âCaerphilly County Borough Council: text messaging to engage young peopleWhen it comes to reaching young people, traditional forms of communication frequently fail. Circulars and committee meetings have limited appeal to the younger age groups.The council turned to text messaging as a way to deliver news and information about local services to young people, though not without a few false starts. A number of changes, including making the service bi-lingual, massively increased take up.âEngaging with the community through the use of text has really paid dividends,â says Councillor Gerald Jones, Deputy Leader Caerphilly County Borough Council.City of York: mobile parking paymentsPaying for city centre parking with coins is an inconvenience for both drivers and the councils that run parking schemes. Upgrading parking systems to accept credit card payments.The City of York opted to introduce a system that allows both residents and visitors to the city to pay for their parking from any phone or Internet enabled device via voice response or text (SMS).When paying for parking, users simply call or send a text message to a dedicated number with details of the location number of the car park and the duration for which they wish the parking session to last.âThe system really has streamlined and made parking operations more efficient,â says Peter Evely, Head of Network, City of York Council. âIt has also brought with it many, many advantages that both residents and visitors to York will enjoy, such as removing the need to interrupt valuable leisure time to run back to the car park to top-up a parking session. This can now be done from wherever you are in the city.â Barriers to adoptionPublic sector organisations do need to overcome a number of barriers to run successful mobile working schemes. Chief among these are:· The small scale of many deployments. Although the number of employees in the public sector overall is large, many employees work in small teams. This is especially the case at district council level or in parts of the NHS (local GP surgeries, clinics and district nursing teams being examples. With teams of fewer than a dozen mobile workers, the public sector organisation may well have more in common with an SME than with the enterprise. Yet many of the proposed solutions are enterprise in scale. It is hard to justify custom applications for small groups; individual projects lack buying power.· In many organisations, there is not yet one single enterprise application that mobile workers can connect to. The real benefits from mobility will only come once that application (often an Oracle or SAP-based ERP system) is up and running. In other organisations, mobile workers need to connect to a wide range of (sometimes legacy) applications. This can be complicated enough to achieve from the office, let alone from the field. Where authorities are looking at mobility, these silos often force the use of laptops rather than more portable form factors.· Justifying a return on investment. Too little research has been done on how to measure efficiency savings and a return on investment from mobility in the public sector. A lack of consistent targets and metrics makes it hard for neighbouring authorities to compare projectsâ effectiveness. As (most) public sector services are not revenue generating, projects have to be justified in terms of bottom line savings, or through savings in employee time.· People issues. A number of respondents cited a lack of willingness to implement technologies (among ICT departments) or adopt them (among lines of business) as a barrier. In some cases such objections proved insurmountable. Staff resistance is particularly acute where projects involve monitoring.· Complexity and low take up of citizen-facing projects. Although some organisations reported positive feedback from SMS projects, others cited barriers such as the need for customers to sign up to a service in advance as a real obstacle. It is often hard to measure whether a mobile citizen-facing project actually meets its objectives.· Most citizen-facing projects only allowed for one-way communication. For example, a hospital can message a patient an appointment reminder, but the patient needs to use another channel, typically the phone, to make a change. A citizen might be able to report fly tipping to the council by SMS but the council officers typically will not be able to reply that way, as incoming text messages are routed through a call centre.Building a business caseAn issue that both public sector organisations and vendors will need to address, if mobile technology is to increase its role, is building the business case for deployments.Often, the business case for a mobile project is closely tied to changes in the underlying business process. Without these changes, the mobile project will struggle to meet its goals.Return on investment and business case calculations from the private sector will be relevant to some areas of the public sector, but by no means all.Public sector providers often measure projects against social rather than financial criteria, such as greater service availability, providing better out of hours cover or better cover in rural districts, environmental benefits from reduced staff travel and even improved work-life balance for staff and better staff retention.Organisations might also see different results from their business case calculations if they looked at larger-scale deployments or were able to better leverage purchasing power across departments or even across organisational boundaries. Some of the pilot projects undertaken appear to be too small to produce meaningful data. Shared purchasing, as well as sharing best practice, could help organisations here.ConclusionsThe UK public sector is already host to a wide range of innovative mobile projects, many of which have delivered substantial benefits to service users, employees and tax payers.The range of such projects shows a strong degree of innovation. But it also represents a challenge. The diversity of the public sector, as well as the barriers between â and often within â organisations is making it harder for some projects to achieve the economies of scale they need to be viable. It is also hindering business process change and lengthening the decision-making process.The fragmented â and necessarily localised â nature of many services is a constant feature of many public sector services. However, our research suggests that public sector bodies could drive real improvements in service levels, cut costs and improve efficiency through greater adoption of mobile and flexible working, and through exploiting mobile communications and the mobile Internet as a channel to communicate with stakeholders.The sector needs support from central government and improved mechanisms both for sharing best practice and pooling buying power. Initiatives such as Project Nomad have shown the way, but it now needs organisations such as the Government Computing Service and the Improvement and Development Agency to develop deployment models that combine advice on technologies and best practice in business processes.At the local level, public sector organisations could also do more to co-operate in order to ensure interoperability and possibly, to share purchasing and back office services.With the cost of mobile technology continuing to fall and a growing body of success stories available from both the public and private sectors, more public sectors will be able to justify investing in mobility â to the benefit of service users and taxpayers alike.O2âs responseAfter analysing the white paper findings, O2 has the following recommendations to ensure that public sector organisations are able to realise the full benefits of mobile technology solutions:· The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) or a similar central body needs to take the lead in helping local authorities and government agencies consolidate their buying power and take a more strategic overview of requirements · Standardisation of platforms/solutions across common areas, particularly sharing of best practice, would greatly assist the public sector. Many projects are done on an ad hoc basis with no coordination which causes confusion and hinders uptake· Operators need to help the public sector take advantage of the significant opportunities available, both with the solutions themselves and with their promotion to the public· As many more people have access to a mobile than to a home computer, mobile should be at the heart of the provision of e-Government services rather than the internet. Recent O2 research highlights that there is an untapped demand among consumers for government to provide access to more services via mobiles. The survey showed that consumers want to access a variety of services via their mobile, including interacting with GPs via mobile, e.g. SMS appointment alerts; receiving regular SMS alerts from local councils and pay for parking via SMS.

Author: Rickard Andersson

Bio.: Cohn & Wolfe - London

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