Features: November 12th, 2002

A View from the Bridge

By Bill Taylor, Chief Executive, West Lancashire District Council and Chair of Management Practices and eGovernment Panel of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

Reproduced by permission of eGov Monitor Weekly http://www.egovmonitor.com/newsletter/signup.asp

The Chief Executive’s national organisation, SOLACE, has helped push the e-Agenda right to the very top of the organisation. As our former President, James Hehir, put it – “the e-Agenda is too important to be left to the ‘propeller heads’ in the IT department, rather it’s a corporate issue which has major managerial implications”.

In short, my take on this is that from a technical perspective the e-Agenda is virtually irrelevant, what I am interested in is the ‘b’-Agenda – that is ‘b’ standing for business. When you look at organisations which have driven up quality and driven down cost, you will invariably find that they have harnessed technology to good effect. So when SOLACE argues for putting the e-Agenda at the heart of what we do, it is not technology for technology’s sake, rather it is to see business improvements. SOLACE takes the view that effective eGovernment will deliver benefits in the widest possible sense, including service delivery and cultural change in organisations and communities. Just as important is the issue of driving down costs. This latter issue is vital as we live in an era of rising public expectations where customers, quite understandably, expect more and more. We expect improvements in the classroom and in our health services and we are growing to expect 24/7 access in terms of contacting our local Council. To meet with these rising expectations, we need to ensure that the e-Agenda delivers savings which can be pushed back down the line and made available to priority services.

It is important to stress that investment in eGovernment goes hand-in-hand with the re-engineering of our services, i.e., our business processes. For example, what is the point in creating a bright, shiny, new Contact Centre, available on a 24/7 basis, if the services supporting it are slow, inefficient and out-of-date? This is another reason why the e-Agenda needs to be at the heart of managerial improvements. There is a need to ensure the e-Agenda is placed within a corporate managerial framework and that this is reflected in the work of SOLACE. It is no coincidence that eGovernment activities at a national level take place within the Management Practices & eGovernment Panel. The Panel seeks to encourage best practice between local authorities, with a high emphasis in encouraging Councils to build partnerships with each other, with other public agencies and in particular, with the private sector. There are a number of real success stories in local government, for example, Bracknell Forest DC, Blackburn with Darwen BC, Liverpool City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire, are amongst those which come to mind. Councils like these show just what can be achieved when technology and managerial competence are harnessed side by side. Importantly, these examples also have a strong private sector partnership flavour to them.

Finally, this article is entitled “A View from the Bridge” – but we must not forget that the real work is carried out by those in the engine room. We need to recognise that it’s people and not systems who deliver services and really make a difference. It’s vital, therefore, that the culture of the organisation is developed in such a way that staff see technology as a valuable tool to assist them in providing services to the community.

Ó KAM Ltd 2002