Q&A: Overcoming the challenges presented by digital transformation

Shazia Hussain, Divisional Director for Customer Service at Tower Hamlets, David Tidey, Chief Information at Richmond and Wandsworth and Paul Knight, Managing Consultant at Agilisys recently came together for a recorded webinar.

The local government panel explored the findings of the recently launched The State of the Digital Nation report and shared relatable experiences of how their organisations are addressing the challenges and opportunities that come with a shift to digital.

In this short Q&A, Knight provides suggestions and tips in answer to some of the questions and comments that came from the webinar attendees.

  1. If you move people online, how do you engage those who still need to pick up a phone due to lack of skills or ability to access your web content?

I’m a big believer that moving simple transactions online and driving take up can be used as an opportunity to free up valuable face-to-face or telephone time for those with higher levels of need. There will always be a requirement to support a segment of our residents in this way. Effective channel shift provides an opportunity to better engage with residents who need additional support, not only resolving enquiries but taking time to support the development of skills, such as mediated self-service and access to online information.

  1. Very often there are costly failures where digital content has not adequately replaced real people. How do you measure the cost benefit of losing staff?

A very interesting question and one I’ll answer in two parts.

The first is about access channels. There is limited value in measuring take up of access channels in isolation. For this reason I’ve long been an advocate for combining web, communication and customer service teams for a more coordinated and informed approach. For example, a web team might be very happy that new content is receiving a high number of clicks – “channel shift” they might say. However, the same content might be generating a series of calls in the contact centre from people seeking further clarity. Taking an integrated approach to measuring and analysing access channels is the only way to gain insight into changes in the access of services and information.

The second is about demand. Channel shift and demand are linked but are also individual issues. It is possible to achieve channel shift, say from face-to-face to web, but inadvertently increase demand for downstream services. For example, a web offer for social care information and advice could end up being less effective than a face-to-face visit. Whilst we are then reducing costly face-to-face transactions in the front office, we are inadvertently generating further demand for acute social care services later in the process. To avoid this, demand for services needs to be monitored and explored, alongside channel shift.

  1. What role does employee engagement play in assisting digital transformation? Does this create any barriers or challenges to moving forward, considering resource reduction is sometimes an outcome – or positively, when there are new opportunities for employees?

In my personal experience, successfully engaging employees in any transformation is critical for a sustainable positive outcome. No more so than in the world of digital. For the most part, I have found employees are keen to embrace digital services, self-service and automation. Whilst staff reductions may be an outcome, it is also just as likely that digital plays a key role in mitigating increasing demand on staff time, meaning it is reducing the need for additional roles rather than reducing existing ones, whilst freeing up staff to spend more time supporting those in need.

More importantly, it’s not the technology or digital platform itself that makes the difference, it’s how people use, embrace and deploy that technology to enable change.

  1. What can be done to directly engage users in your innovations as they are shaped and trialled to ensure that client feedback is inputted into your transformation agenda?

Engaging a varied range of potential users at the earliest opportunity is a good move. This ensures that as we develop products and services they are based on real world feedback and user needs, and not on our own assumptions or prejudices. To effectively do this requires adopting an agile delivery approach, exposing potential customers to ‘work in progress’ models and lots of trials and rework. By setting and managing expectations well, you will find these types of engagements extremely valuable. Not least knowing your service or ‘digital product’ will stand an excellent chance of meeting most of your users’ needs from the get go.

  1. How would you measure digital success? What does good look like and what are the KPIs?

I would argue that digital is one critical success factor, of many, that contribute to an organisations’ overall success. So rather than suggest specific digital KPIs, I offer a series of questions that should be continually asked: ‘Does my organisation have a digital strategy and associated programme of activity aligned to the corporate plan?’; ‘Are we deriving insight from data that is directly informing service design and delivery?’; ‘Are our applications and service providers responsive to changes in user requirements?’

To find out where public sector organisations are on their digital transformation journey, don’t miss the The State of the Digital Nation report.

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