Channel accounting

July 9, 2009

I’d been asked a question off blog about how the various figures apparently showing the incrementally lesser costs of face-to-face, to telephone, to web, that keep cropping up, were calculated.  Since this discussion is becoming more common and seems to rely upon mythology as much as science, I thought I’d try to briefly fill out some of the blanks.

 I did a quick survey of some of the figures being quoted:

  NWEGG Lambeth Socitm (min) Socitm (max)
Face-to-face £7.81 £1.66 £4.83 £9.56
Telephone £4.00 £0.85 £1.28 £5.57
Touchtone   £0.09    
Web £0.17 £0.09 £0.22 £0.56
Payment network   £0.50    
Direct debit   £0.02    

 The methodology used by NWEGG in association with CIPFA was documented and published by the CLG in March 2008 and entitled –

Delivering Efficiency: Understanding the Cost of Local Government Services

 and can be found here:

 Socitm employ CIPFA Accounting Code for Best Value as the basis for collecting costs, which should mean that the NWEGG and Socitm figures are on a par. CIPFA charge £850 for a copy –

– must be a best seller at that price!

 I do have a slide with the Lambeth calculation and I would say that looks like common sense, too.

 So, why the differences? As was discussed at a meeting I attended with Socitm a while ago, an authority who had done their own sums found vast differences between services. This does make sense. Not all services are equal, displaying planning information on the web is easier than displaying benefits information and is likely to be accessed more often, too. So it probably depends which services one chooses to account for.

 My conclusion – get everyone to pay by direct debit wherever possible!


NI14 – the new moneypit for IT suppliers?

July 10, 2008

A very recent promotion by a local government supplier included the following statement:

“In line with the objectives detailed in the NI14 indicator councils will be expected to halve ‘avoidable contact’ with citizens by 2011 and simplify lengthy, complicated processes, whilst reducing costs. It has been identified that face to face interactions with customers cost £9 per enquiry, telephone interactions cost £5 and web interactions just 12p. An average Local Authority that has 180,000 face to face interactions in a year could make a saving of approximately £799,200 if, in line with the objectives set by NI14 this number was halved to 90,000 (based on real figures).”

The supplier concerned hadn’t read the IDeA guidance since it hadn’t been published by that stage and was relying, I presume, on the earlier Cabinet Office information. However my main contention would be that Varney was asking for a 50% reduction in ‘avoidable contact’ by 2011, not for it to more than disappear!Even the IDeA guidance states that the private sector has 40 to 60 % ‘avoidable contact’ currently and only a few pilot authorities have actually started measuring it and attempting to reduce it. According to NWEGG the channel costs are £7.81, £4.00 and 17p respectively, which are slightly cheaper than those quoted, although there are a range of values being currently quoted however other research indicates that these vary greatly by service and an average figure may be meaningless as well as probably varying greatly by authority!

Anyway, I am completely befuddled by the figures in the example! Are we to presume that all the services were face-to-face? Or can we move some to telephone, losing some ‘avoidable contact’ in the process, but since this was a web firm I presume they are all being dealt with by e-forms, saving even more money.

It is thinking (or lack of) like this that does a dis-service to public service and the service to the public…

Customer need and public service

April 6, 2008

Reading the paper by Fountain and thinking about the Circle of Need from the NWEGG report, I started to recall Heraclitus’ quotation that one can’t step into the same river twice.
This might been seen as an analogy of the public sector customer, who has a changing set of needs, rights and obligations. If the needs are met and the rights upheld, the citizen is satisfied, if the citizen meets their obligations, the government is satisfied and this is is reflected upon the citizen.
The river is bounded by the passage of time and its contents those needs, rights and obligations. The public servant, in this analogy, is therefore the trustee, warden or bailiff of that everflowing stream, attempting to make sure that the citizen gets what they deserve and the water keeps flowing.
Where does electronic government fit into all this? We need to be able to make the citizen aware of their obligations electronically, whilst providing for their needs through joined-up processes and observing their rights whilst doing this, and that is the role of the public servants on behalf of the politicians. What about the politicians? Well, they act as lifeguards making sure everyone gets what they need in and out of the river, whilst observing their rights are preserved and they deliver their obligations…

Delivering Efficiency?

March 20, 2008

Hot on the entrails of the NWEGG report mentioned in an earlier post is the latest from the DCLG (or duckleg, to its friends) entiteled ‘Delivering Efficiency: Understanding the Cost of Local Government’.

The interesting connection is the diagram on page 40 which has central to it a ‘circle of need’, which points to ‘customer satisfaction’ as an outcome.

Hence understanding the citizen’s needs (or their own presentation of themselves, as it were in Cornford & Richter’s paper) should assist us to deliver the services that make them satisfied.

Wanting what the customer wants?

March 6, 2008

Perhaps all the focus on NI14 is distracting us from dealing with customer need. A recent report from the North West E-Government Group (NWEGG) following some consultancy at Chorley has outlined an approach to looking at what the citizen actually requires – “Report on modelling Citizen Need“.

This is a great start to looking at the issue from the citizen’s perspective.