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Employee change management projects should put the trust in IT

By Deborah Saunby, Sales & Marketing Director
17 March 2020

Councils are using digital technology to boost revenue and cut costs, under the black umbrella of diminishing budgets.

Local councils, in fact, in particular, are tremendously savvy investors in technology, working with suppliers of all sizes to produce the change and innovation at an appropriate cost. This recent infographic from Advice Cloud, the G-Cloud Consultants and Public Sector Procurement Specialists, breaks down the spending of local government on G-Cloud to date, and, as you can see, total spend across all councils is over £146 million.

Services to the public have been transformed – we’ve moved beyond a council’s website being industry news, to looking at the ones offering apps for specific things like monitoring noise pollution. We’ve also become wise to, and comfortable with the fact that the best and often fastest way for a council to save money is to invest in helping its own staff work smarter, and the same growth curve can be applied there; the savviness is visible in the move to flexible, mobile and app-based solutions for council workers.

Making IT a leader, not an enabler of change

The budget is being spent, but who within local councils is making the decisions on what’s required, how to procure it, and most importantly, how the change should be managed and the benefits realised? I believe that the IT team at local council level should have the boldest role possible in the inception and management of projects that are commissioned to change internal processes for staff. By giving the responsibility to those providing the technology which is used to solve the problems identified by the staff, there’s a real empathy and desire to affect change that, many would think wasn’t something you’d naturally expect from the IT side of any business.

The desire to increase productivity using technology strongly exists within the local council environment, but the drive to find solutions is often not as easy to find . It’s not that it doesn’t exist, it’s that the siloed approach to teams and the lack of communication between them hinders it. The IT team, by their very existence, is the only group that knows a little about every other department, and understands what they need, and, importantly, what they lack. IT has the knowledge and power to knit the HR and finance teams together, for example, both in a common aim and with the requisite digital solution to support their goals. I have found when IT takes a leading role in the development of the strategy for change, the technology is pervasive.

Perception can stifle change 

We’ve seen a rapid rise in local authorities adopting cloud and mobile applications, but there will always be a handful of stragglers. Internal resistance could sometimes come from an unsuitable management structure, or a stubborn team, which needs fresh leadership and perspective to ‘get’ mobile.

Of course, when it comes to mobile solutions, one hears those classic tales of projects being rolled out, only to discover that half the team can’t access the chosen solution because of their choice of device. However, this can simply be avoided in the procurement process by ensuring your provider can host on multiple platforms before you enter into the agreement. Again though, with the IT team sitting further up the project management stack, providing a true perspective on what’s actually possible, this could be altered.

Councils, as I mentioned, sheltering under the black umbrella of the budget cut, often find it very difficult to perceive the cost of a large change or technology implementation as anything but a large hole, that capital expenditure is a clawing rubble out of the hole, faster than the savings bought by the project can pour it back in. Mobile and cloud solutions can offer less immediate spending and ways to spread the cost, whilst getting the same savings.

But, even if they didn’t, a perception change is required here, and I believe the IT team has a strong role to play in the messaging of that. Applications can realise changes very quickly. For example, Allocate’s expenses management software is fully mobile, and once the organisations parameters and policies are set, claims are regulated, VAT is automatically calculated, processes like sending paper receipts are eliminated, and, exceptions and discrepancies are quickly and efficiently dealt with; frankly, less bogus claiming slips through the net. The savings begin immediately.

The expenses example is interesting, because a finance team in any local council would always have put a simpler way of processing claims very high on their wish list for change. Working with the tech team in a closer fashion, to identify the problems and ask them to find a suitable solution which is not just scalable but has uses in improving workflow between departments, is a very productive way to find a way forward. Too often, the finance team simply take tenders from solutions providers and picks the one they like, without consulting other teams.

Culture, trust and the role of IT

Culture, trust and autonomy are quite challenging ideals within local authorities, which are sometimes restricted by hierarchy. Our sell side team deals with local authorities for longer than any other type of public sector customer, before the project is handed off to the delivery team. Is this because the decision-making process is hampered by longer communication trails and too many outdated processes? I think increased trust has a large part to play in the change needed to decrease those decision-making times.

Trust also has a very important role in the success of the changes themselves, particularly when it comes to technology designed to improve collaboration, empowerment and engagement. One council we work with has deployed an entire strategy around trust by automating their expenses. For example, when it comes to certain claims that are within policy, the trust point is that employees can self-approve their own expenses. This eliminates process, saves time, and of course, shows that there is a level of trust in existence.

The above example is a solution that benefits the staff, and lessens the burden on both the finance and IT teams, whilst creating this fabulous culture of trust. I feel that if communications improved between those responsible for technology and those who require it to solve a business problem, and that the IT team were decision makers in the change process, this sort of shift would be more achievable and frequent.

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