Recent events, from floods to pandemic, have brought risk and resilience back into sharp focus for public service managers and directors. And one risk in particular has quickly moved up the list – the risk associated with paper-based processes.
As service managers have implemented rapid service changes and moved to working remotely, the limitations of paper-heavy processes have quickly become apparent. While local government channel shift programmes over the years have moved many citizen interactions online, the back office, particularly in the environmental services function, has not always kept pace.
Spreadsheets, emails and phone calls are still the norm in delivering many business processes such as work orders and complaints, with post-it notes and paper forms plugging the gaps between systems. It’s not only a recipe for slow and inconsistent customer service (which nobody likes) but also considerable service risk.
While there are some obvious data security risks that come from having bits of paper floating about the office and the inside of a refuse vehicle, we’d also like to draw your attention to some of the less obvious risks that paper processes present to environmental services teams.
Bits of paper get lost. Emails and phone calls get missed. Spreadsheets get out of sync. As customers, we’ve all experienced the feeling that comes when you realise the long delay in response to an enquiry isn’t because a company is working hard to meet your needs, but rather because your request has fallen into a black hole. It’s no surprise that modern service organisations combine the correct management of customer data with automated workflows to channel work to the right teams and audit the status of progress and performance. Not only does this allow them to get more things right first time, but importantly, to quickly resolve issues when they do arise and make sure they are put right before it starts to impact on the customer or citizen.
Perhaps less obvious than the risk of inefficient day-to-day processes, but certainly no less important, is the risk that comes from having the wrong resource on a service. Run with too little resource or unbalanced rounds and the result is generally poor performance and lots of complaints, and one doesn’t have to look far to find stories in the press of councils who have been unable to keep up with their collections. Problems with waste tend to be very high profile. Where teams are still designing their services and their routes using paper maps, as many are, the risk of inefficient resource is high. It’s not uncommon for our customers to identify resource savings of 10-15% against their current service. This suggests those using paper rather than software face two difficult choices – run with higher costs than are actually needed or, more commonly, reduce resources in the wrong areas and see performance suffer.
While it’s true to say that IT systems come with their own risks, and indeed a number of local authorities have suffered cyber attacks, it’s also true to say that manual, paper-based processes are often identified as a key risk in business continuity plans. Cloud-based systems can be restored quickly and easily and accessed remotely where office access is not possible, while the same can’t be said about paper-based processes. Likewise, In-Cab units can help temporary drivers to efficiently manage new routes or services in the face of emergency changes and to collect service data to support the redesign of future services.
In the same way that many are predicting that the changes businesses have made in response to the pandemic will accelerate the use of remote working and communications technology, others are also predicting that it will accelerate the use of cloud and digital technologies in the transformation of public services. If you like to talk to us about digitising data and automating processes in your back office, then please get in touch.