Top management team

In the wake of the Socitm Better Connected 2012 review and reports, a further report has been published aimed at the management of UK local authorities. Better Connected 2012: a briefing for the top management team picks up on some of the results of the annual study along with opinions of those involved. It’s only 16 page so the £50 price tag is a little steep, unless you are a subscriber. The author(s) promote what they describe as eight ‘simple, clear points which can act as guiding principles’, unfortunately number eight is ‘we want public services that are more transparent’, which isn’t at all clear to me – is that the policies, data or management that needs to be ‘transparent’? The other seven are equally ‘simple’.

The service picked on and discussed around mystery shopping is that of public libraries. Possibly one of the more difficult to manage in these turbulent times with high asset value, regular revenue costs and an unpredictable market. If the library service concerned has an old software application, they’re highly unlikely to get a new shiny, all-singing one in the current climate – instead they are likely being compressed and expected to do more with less. Ultimately it may be said that going online with the latest applications, and encouraging self-service will cut a few librarian posts, but it’s a fine line in the costings.

I heartily agree with the statement on the eighth page that “council leaders and managers must accept that the main purpose of the website is to deliver services”, but currently policy dictates that it isn’t necessarily the council that is delivering services now, and the private and third sectors have their own opinions as to what their route is once they’ve taken on services and it isn’t necessarily transparency of ease of customer contact. Similarly, the twelfth page argues for lots of user testing, which I totally agree with but third-party application interfaces aren’t easily or affordably tweaked once they are in place.

Unfortunately for all the good intentions the authors are too far detached from the reality of delivering services in the current climate and whilst there is much good advice the attitude is likely to pi** off more council web managers than it will educate.

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One Response to Top management team

  1. vickysargent says:

    Hi Mick

    As always some excellent observations, but also some points to come back on.

    The eight guiding principles we quote in the briefing are not ours, they actually come from a report by Customer Focus called What do consumers want, need and expect from online public services?

    Obviously we broadly agree with the principles or we would not have reproduced them, but read in context, they are no more than introductions to more detailed discussion, which is well worth a look.

    Re libraries, we highlight them in this summary because we carried out a detailed user experience study on them last year. We found that while all the library systems in use by councils come with usability problems, we also found that some councils were significantly more successful than others at circumventing these.

    You are right that getting customers to use library services online will not make major savings on their own. This is a point we emphasised in last year’s report Better served: customer access, efficiency and channel shift. Channel shift savings on individual services do not add up to much, but applied across all services delivered, and over time, they certainly do. Just look at the case study from Tameside. This is why councils need to take a corporate, rather than individual service approach to channel shift.

    Where the private or third sectors have taken over council services, contracts should stipulate what is required in terms of transparency, and if these contracts are to give the provider a viable return, then ease of customer use is surely a commercial imperative.

    Finally our report, as you acknowledge, is aimed at top management, the people who have the power, if they chose to exercise it, to change many of the things that, as you say, pi** off council web managers. For that reason we would hope for their support for our messages.

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