If the public sector didn’t work together, nothing would get done. The bins wouldn’t get emptied, potholes wouldn’t get repaired, and you wouldn’t be able to go to an NHS hospital if you had an accident.

But, who should take ownership of ensuring public sector management is followed?

It’s always been critical for public services to talk and share information with each other, whether tax collectors and city planners, or sanitation teams and health services. However, over the years, the structure of public sector services have evolved, become more complex, or altered completely. The lines of communication between these services have often broken down, even though the technology available to support communication and collaboration has advanced beyond recognition.

So why, in an age of high-speed mobile data and tablet devices, is it so difficult for our public services to work together?

3 things at the center of this communications breakdown:

  • The standalone nature of public organizations has led to a tunnel-vision culture amongst service providers, who, until recently, have only focused their efforts on their immediate directives rather than looking at the wider social environment.
  • Information security requirements have hindered open inter-agency information sharing from taking place. Until recently, there simply hasn’t been a secure system available that would enable non-printed forms of information to be reviewed and worked on by multiple disparate organizations at the same time.
  • Complex technology, developed by shareholder-focused goliaths, has resulted in organizations being caught in a state of process paralysis. Working with teams across the firewall and straying beyond the boundaries of one’s organization (in a technological sense) is almost impossible.

So, given that these challenges are unlikely to go away in the short term, should we give up on the concept of our public services working in a inter-connected manner? The answer to this is no. We simply cannot afford to, because inter-connected service provisions cost less and deliver more.

How government agencies can greatly improve collaboration

The recent Troubled Families Initiatives launched by the Department of Communities and Local Government is a prime example of the desire to get services working together. The initiative aims to reduce the costs of the 120,000 identified “families in trouble” by $12.3 billion (£8 billion) per annum. This cost reduction is set to be achieved by financially encouraging the relevant local government, health, policing, housing, employment, and education services to work together to improve these families’ lives and make early interventions where needed.

So how are they managing to make this happen? Devon County Council had the foresight to look beyond its own firewalls and realize it needed a secure online environment that would enable all agencies to speak to each other and work together effectively. To find out more about how they achieved this, Mark Hammett, Project Manager at Devon County Council, tells the story in a previous post http://www.huddle.com/blog/devon-county-council/.

Adoption, adoption, adoption

But a secure online workspace in itself is not going to overcome the breakdown in inter-agency communications. The cultural and complexity challenges may still exist and organizations will typically see their initiatives fail due to low adoption rates of new technology deployments. So, any provider of a digital workspace needs to understand that a technical solution is only half the answer. The other half is to work with a provider that has developed technology from a users’ perspective and combined this ease of use with the required security features. That way, it’s so intuitive that anyone can use it and adoption comes naturally as people realize that the technology helps them to get their jobs done. The behavioral and cultural changes required happen naturally as inter-agency users realize the value of the system. Organizations can rest assured that the technology meets their security needs, and they’re getting value from their investments.

So who should take ownership of inter-connected service delivery within the public sector? The “heads of service” within each organization, that’s who. They need to lead the charge and no longer let culture, no-risk security compliance, or prefabricated complexity stand in their way of delivering a holistic public service to customers, which significantly lowers cost for everyone.

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