THE LATEST EDITION

November 2018
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Get it right!

Get it right!

Productivity is the new public sector watchword. From NHS to local government and police forces, chief executives are assessing just how to cope with an escalating workload with a fast declining budget and significant cuts in personnel. Laudable attempts to fast track change are now revealing real productivity problems, from unforeseen end user impact of intermittent mobile connections to devices that are not locked down and that pose significant security concerns. Cloud computing, flexible working and freeing up office space by enabling individuals to work from home offer significant benefits, but have a down-side for mobile users.

But as Simon Pettit, Corporate Director at Stone, explains, while leveraging mobile technologies to cut costs is an excellent strategy, strong cooperation between IT, procurement and finance will be key to achieving a workable, secure and appropriate solution that delivers both financial benefits and productivity gains.

Cost v Productivity

As the public sector cuts continue to bite, organisations are taking positive, often radical, steps to transform efficiency and effectiveness. But these strategies have got to work – and fast. The key is for the end user behaviour when away from the office to be exactly the same as it would be in the office. There is no point closing offices and offering staff the chance to work from home if they have poor access to corporate services; if mobile connectivity is continually dropping out; or if the remote solution is so inherently and irreparably insecure that it jeopardises essential GSi Code of Connection (CoCo) compliance.

Yet such problems are now endemic. Public sector organisations have been forced to make such rapid change – implementing new mobile and remote working strategies without the usual pilot studies” that many of these issues are now coming to the fore to threaten promised project return on investment, and often leading to systems being boycotted by disgruntled users.

The result is that whilst financial benefits are being delivered, these organisations are now discovering huge productivity problems. From the remote workers forced to re-authenticate up to seven times every day because the connection back to the central system keeps failing, to NHS staff filling in an electronic form only to lose all the data when the wireless link fails, many of the recent mobile deployments are causing major concerns.

The issue is not only lost productivity but also damaged morale. Individuals that continually struggle to complete day-to-day tasks due to technology failure become rapidly disgruntled, which further undermines their commitment and productivity.

Procurement Model

Given the huge financial challenges facing the public sector, rapid decision making is to be applauded. And in many ways, it is understandable that organisations embraced these strategies with little insight into the associated risks, especially given the widespread perception that internet access is ubiquitous. But the promise of ubiquitous access is simply not true.

Many of the rural areas that have to be covered by public sector employees have poor mobile communications. In addition, standard wireless and cellular networks are inherently insecure, and platforms like the Windows Mobile operating system have proven vulnerabilities.

The way in which these strategies have been implemented also reflects the clear shift in IT procurement process that has occurred in recent years. Over the past decade, IT has lost ground, firstly in the drive towards best value and latterly as cost cutting has become a priority: the emphasis has been on like-for-like replacement with price being the primary deciding factor.

But the public sector is moving into a new way of working and IT’s knowledge is now critical. For example, these organisations cannot afford to jeopardise CoCo compliance due to insecure mobile connections and a lack of encryption, when CoCo is a prerequisite of access to central government databases.

In this fast changing environment there is a clear need for strong co-operation between IT, finance and procurement. Organisations no longer require the lowest price on a like-for-like replacement of 300 PCs. The requirement now is more likely to be a mixture of PCs, thin client devices, notebooks with docking stations, and ruggedised tablets for those working in the field – a mix that drives the best returns for the business.

Increasingly IT has a powerful role to play in field testing these technologies in real-world scenarios, rapidly proving the concept and evaluating the business benefits.

IT’s expertise is required not only in determining the specific hardware requirements of each user but also to put in place the additional technology layers required to maximise productivity and security. From encrypted hard drives for portable equipment to additional communications layers to prevent the connection drop outs that demand re-authentication and cause data loss. It is only by combining a best value approach to technology procurement, with real insight into the viability of using these technologies in practice, that these organisations have a chance of realising these positive strategies for cost reduction.

Conclusion

The use of mobile technology is compelling for every public sector organisation. But blithely handing out top specification iPad2s to every executive board member (often referred to as -executive jewellery) is not only tough to justify to the electorate, but also highly unlikely to either release cash or improve productivity. At the same time, it is simply not feasible to relocate several hundred employees from office to home or mobile working without considering the associated security and productivity implications.

Organisations need to balance pragmatism with a real understanding of the requirements of a fast changing environment. The issue is not about buying the latest mobile and remote technologies to support a flexible workforce. It is about understanding the day-to-day requirements of this workforce and taking a smarter approach to procurement to ensure data remains secure, connectivity is constant and hardware appropriate to meet the challenging productivity demands now being faced across every part of the public sector.

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