Ethics and digital transformation
I’ve recently been in a position where I’ve had to open a business bank account. Having tried one major online bank that required a face to face meeting only to find they don’t accept a signed tenancy agreement as proof of address, I tried another. A week later I had an account, but for access to internet banking it was a case of downloading the dreaded pdf and posting to them. Both these two banks offer online banking and mobile apps but have overlaid them on a legacy processes meaning that there are still major flaws in their overall digital transformation effort. For my third attempt I tried a new online bank called Tide. Within 15 minutes I had downloaded the app, applied, proved my identity and address (with image capture software and facial recognition) and had a bank account. Two days later I received my bank card in the post. I had a similar experience when I opened a Revolut account, and know many people who now use Monzo who tell me of the same experience.
This is all great but why am I telling you? Well it’s quite simple. What the two major banks had done was continue to work in a legacy way but with an overlay of digital, and this is similar to most council services. What Tide and Revolut have done is start from zero and build a service that gives greater customer satisfaction and ease of use and puts the customer in control. And this is the radical approach that councils need to start taking as shrinking budgets take effect. I’ve been to many councils where the answer to Housing Benefit or Council Tax is a MyAccount service with a few e-forms. This is the equivalent of the two major banks offering an online bank account. However, most of the banks services still require a bank visit or a phone call at the very least and have legacy processes to complete. (There’s one notable high street bank that is advertising it now has a full mortgage application online. In 2019 this shouldn’t be worthy of a tv advert).
So, how do councils start operating like a Tide or a Revolut? That comes from identifying the problems with the services they offer, looking at where the constraints are re-imaging the service as if they were a customer and utilising new technologies to deliver them. Most council back office software is built around the user, i.e. the council staff worker, not built from the customer perspective.
If we go back to Housing Benefit and it operated in the same way as Tide then the only work the council would need to do is quality check the claim. The claimant should be able to apply, upload docs, prove their identity, income and address via the mobile app using recognition technology and all this information should feed directly into a claim system that processes the application. Housing benefit workers would then do less data input or re-keying of information and more claim checking. Bearing in mind that they are only required to check 4% of claims anyway currently, this number could increase and still reduce the overall workload of the department.
There is actually no reason why there couldn’t be a national Housing Benefit app that could do this (maybe Universal Credit will offer some hope). This kind of model could be used across most council services, put the customer first and let the customer do the work and reduce staff numbers. It’s no different in the thinking to self serve checkouts in supermarkets and menu screens in popular fast food joints. Let the customer order their own food and you need less staff to serve them and the food is cooked in almost real time, rather than having lots of waste as was the old way. This goes across many industries in the same way it could work across most council services.
Even with current legislation you can start to take a radical approach, look at the above banks and how tightly regulated banking is, or even Uber where taxi legislation is strict. Start from the point of ‘if I was the customer how would i want to do this?’.
Council’s can’t keep complaining about a lack of budget for services when in the main they are still delivering them in the exact same way as the legacy banks with an overlay of digital and think that it’s going to make a big enough difference. Or as I’ve seen many times, write to suppliers and ask for a 10% discount. Is that the best we can do? A national radical approach to the way councils deliver services is what’s required and maybe bring in expertise or speak to companies that have disrupted their industries and then start to make real changes. Services need to be completely re-imagined not just transformed. Digital transformation isn’t enough on its own.