Journalist Mark Say discusses how social workers, empowered by mobile technology, are providing better care in their communities
Among all of its potential benefits, mobile technology provides one stand-out promise for local government – to enable more workers to spend more time dealing face-to-face with local people in their homes or neighbourhoods. This can be the basis of a double win, in the shape of increased efficiency for the organisation and better services for citizens.
Councils can see it provides solutions for employees to get more involved with communities while still keeping up with the administrative tasks necessary for good governance. This is especially important for social care and is often a make or break issue for the reputation of a local authority, as the time a professional spends with a vulnerable person is crucial in making the right decisions. On a broad front, it can help local government respond to a major challenge: to ensure that people see the evidence of its involvement, with employees out in the communities they serve and not staying within the town hall.
The Government Procurement Service has recognised the importance of mobility for local government in its recent tender for a new software applications procurement framework, which includes mobile enablement of existing solutions as one of the core capabilities. Along with the growth of applications available as cloud services, it points to a future in which local authorities want much of their IT to operate through mobile platforms. They can see a number of benefits in the technology. It can support a move to flexible working in which employees can do more from home and in communities and adjust their hours. Its advocates say this can boost morale and productivity, providing staff with a better work-life balance and making them more responsive to council customers. It can also lay the foundations for estate rationalisation, enabling organisations to make significant savings by cutting back on office space.
Mobile technology can also reduce the time that employees spend travelling to and from offices to input and collect information and give them more time to deal directly with issues. It can enable them to provide data and photographic evidence from communities to council systems and increases the potential for greater collaboration in the field with other public sector workers, making it possible to obtain the relevant information without delay.
Social care benefits
There are already examples of the benefits to local authorities in several areas, including social care. Nottinghamshire County Council has a programme to roll out a solution for its social workers, involving the provision of tablet computers and software that brings together the applications they use in their jobs. The solution enables them to review and update case notes, complete forms, provide photographic and video evidence and adjust their work schedule from clients’ homes. They can also get into standard applications such as expenses, timesheets and email all through a front end that looks like an Apple or Android app. Nottinghamshire has forecast several efficiency savings: an average 90 minute reduction in the time spent reporting each assessment; the capacity to do 158 more assessments per month for children’s services; better staff retention and less spending on agency workers; and better use of previously ‘dead time’. It expects the project to pay back its investment costs in 18 months and provide savings of £1.7 million per year and has become sufficiently confident to begin telling the local press.
The benefits can be obtained across the range of council services, not just Social Care. Fife Council has been working on a five-year programme to improve service delivery and achieve efficiencies, reporting that halfway through the programme it was already on track to save £20 million. The council has launched a mobile working programme in it’s Building Services department that it says has made it more responsive to customers, helped to sharply reduce its number of offices and cut the time for its work processes, in some cases, from weeks to hours.
Many local authorities are considering such projects, but they need robust mobile networks, devices and applications to make them work, and have to take account of the continual demand for cost savings.
Financial factors predominate
Public sector IT analyst Kable surveyed 200 public sector officials, mostly from IT departments, on the issues surrounding mobile technology over May and June of 2014. It found that the respondents in local government regarded pricing and value for money as the most important issue when implementing mobile solutions: in answer to a question of how important it was to them, ranking 1-10, it scored an average of 9.0. Only security accreditations came close with 8.5. This reflects a widespread public sector concern with data security and is especially important for social care in which much of the information held is highly sensitive. The survey also found that enabling flexible working, underpinned by mobile technology, was a priority across local government – it scored highly at 7.6, largely reflecting the desire to make frontline workers more efficient.
“Mobile working offers opportunities to increase efficiency and improve services in many areas: from revenues and benefits to planning and environmental services,” says Stephen Roberts, managing director of public sector IT analyst firm Kable. “But adult social services, the most resource-intensive directorate, is where the need for efficiency is greatest and the drive to mobile working is strongest.” He also points out that, unlike the rest of the public sector, local authorities already spend more on laptops than desktop PCs and they are increasing their investment on mobile connectivity while reducing the spend on fixed lines.
More community time
Spending more time in the community is going to be important to the future of local government. The demand for large savings and better services will force it to develop new processes, and mobile technology can play a big part by helping employees to spend less time in the office and more with service users. Their priorities are going to include a close look at business processes and how mobile networks, devices and applications can deliver marked improvements. They will also have to find partners that, in addition to providing the network infrastructure, can help to deliver the extra value in designing and delivering supporting services.
If they make the right choices it will lay the foundations for serving their communities successfully into the next decade.
Nottinghamshire County Council is a Ready Organisation. See how at vodafone.co.uk/twm