Government Use Of Shared Front Office Services Improves Delivery For Citizens
It is increasingly clear that citizens’ demands and expectations regarding the delivery of government services are now greater than ever.So governments are managing their performance more carefully and seeking better outcomes for citizens.
At the same time, governments are also having to address the need for stringent efficiency and cost control because of the unprecedented constraint on public finances. In his recent budget statement, for example, Chancellor Alistair Darling spoke of 'cuts' and 'efficiencies' as a way of saving over £11bn in the public sector. But these actions need not be all about reducing services to the public.
In the face of this dilemma, effective implementation of shared services can be a key way of achieving both significant cost reduction and improved public service outcomes for UK citizens.
For several decades, Government agencies have explored, and – in many cases – implemented, the concept of shared services – the aggregation of resources and capabilities across multiple agencies or parts of agencies. Until recently, however, the application of shared service concepts has been limited to traditional back-office functions such as finance, human resources, and information technology. These have been important in reducing duplication of effort and thus realizing administrative efficiencies. Today, building on these successes, innovative governments around the world are putting the shared services concept to work in the front office where the citizen is served, with the objective of delivering integrated services, improving citizens’ overall “customer experience” and achieving cost efficiencies. The result often is not just a reduction in the cost to serve but also, given the resulting convenience for customer, a reduction on the cost to be served.
In reality, citizens often have a broad range of needs that are rarely confined to the boundaries of one organization or even one type of service. It is also rare for a single agency to control all of the resources needed to improve citizens’ quality of life by delivering the social and economic outcomes citizens seek. To tackle complex problems frequently requires a collective effort on the part of different agencies operating, beyond their separate organisational and service boundaries. Coordinating these efforts provides citizens and public service users more integrated and holistic solutions to their problems and needs.
Accenture’s Institute for Health & Public Service Value has studied numerous examples of the use of shared service delivery in government and compiled these into a new report: “Sharing Front Office Services?the Journey to Citizen-centric Delivery,”
The report identifies four basic models for sharing front office services that offer powerful means of integrating service delivery effectively and efficiently to improve the customer experience:
1. Collaborative Customer Interfaces between a government agency and at least one other agency (government and often non-government), in which the apparatus for customer interaction is shared. This provides a convenient portal for citizen access to service.
• In the UK, for example, the Kent Gateway consists of a number of customer access centres or “gateways” located in major shopping areas, at which citizens can gain information about – and get direct access to – a wide range of public services provided by Kent County Council.
2. Collaborative Information and Assessment Systems, in which multiple agencies, or multiple programmes within government, maintain shared systems for managing citizen information and/or processing eligibility assessments and referrals.
• In the US, New York City’s HHS-Connect programme provides an online eligibility tool for 35 different city, state and federal benefit programmes. Clients only need to provide the information once and it remains accessible to the client afterwards. The intention is to develop, as far as legally possible, cross-agency holistic views of clients and their service needs.
3. Networked Delivery initiatives in which agencies participate to deliver multi-agency interventions on a case-by-case basis within a general framework for cooperation.
• New Zealand’s Strengthening Families initiative consists of a structured, whole-of-government early intervention process for government agencies and community organisations to work together to improve outcomes for families. Local agencies are given substantial freedom to agree with families how best to structure health, education and social services in ways which most appropriately respond to their needs.
4. Joint Delivery, in which previously separate government agencies or parts of agencies are reorganized to operate as a single entity.
• Norway’s NAV, for instance, is a merger of two central government agencies –national insurance and employment- and a partnership agreement with local social welfare services. Integrated pension, welfare and employment service delivery is provided through local offices, as well as by telephone and internet. The aim is to get more people into employment and activity and fewer on benefits, while making interaction with the service easier for users.
Front office shared service initiatives such as these move beyond a focusing on specific service transactions. They have the potential to provide a more holistic and mutually productive relationship for both citizens and their governments, balancing improved social and economic outcomes for citizens while making significant contributions to meeting government’s needs for substantial cost reduction.