Local government IT managers must “get up to speed” and lead on service design if public services are to be successfully transformed, Sir Michael Bichard has urged the Society of IT Management (Socitm).
Bichard, a former local authority chief executive and top civil servant, led the inquiry into the murder of two schoolgirls in Soham and is now chair of RSe Consulting. His speech to the Socitm conference in Belfast came in the wake of a new Service Transformation Agreement, issued by the government alongside the pre-budget report and comprehensive spending review, which signals a renewed ministerial focus on transformation.
Bichard warned that satisfaction with the way local authorities ran things had “deteriorated markedly since 2000 and although public satisfaction with some services has improved it is not dramatic and in some cases it has dropped back”.
He told delegates: “At least part of the answer is in service design – looking again at the way which our services are designed. And to do that not by focusing as we have traditionally done on the process and re-engineering it, but by focusing first and last on the client/customer/citizen and rebuilding delivery around them.”
This must be done “while integrating IT into the core design rather than adding it later as a way of process improvement”, Bichard urged.
“I have argued before and increasingly believe that the reason why the government has failed to achieve the transformation of public services is not just because it has failed to reform the civil service but because it has been pouring money into services which are inherently badly designed,” he said.
Bichard called on Socitm members not to see service design as “another fad” after business process improvement, noting that the Department for Communities and Local Government has estimated that “33% of all efficiencies will in future come from service design”.
“The message to the IT profession is, I think, to get up to speed with this kind of approach. Understand how it works and the ways in which IT can play its part. Don’t just follow – take the lead,” Bichard told delegates.
He told Socitm members they should learn the lessons of failures in major central government IT projects as local government schemes became more complex, and he added: “The IT profession and Socitm should have a voice in some of the wider public policy issues which currently touch upon information and intelligence.”
There was “a chasm developing” between what IT could deliver in areas such as data sharing and what the public is prepared to accept, said Bichard, whose recommendations following the Soham murders included a national police IT system to share information across individual forces.
“Sometimes that is because the government and other stakeholders have done too little to educate the public about the reasons why in particular information does need to be shared and about the safeguards which can prevent its misuse,” he said.