We have the technology in Medway

We have the technology

In this age of austerity, technology providers need to step up and demonstrate real savings for the public sector or face a diminishing IT budget

In the midst of the biggest reduction in government expenditure since the Second World War, it feels like every aspect of the public sector could be affected.

Talk of cuts and tax rises have dominated the news agenda. There’s been extensive speculation about the threat to frontline services. But is this is helpful discourse or are we missing a trick?

We have an opportunity to cast the debate wider and address the avoidable waste which has accumulated over the years in the public sector.

Sir Philip Green’s report into government spending paints a bleak picture of public sector waste. Green is reported as saying that if he ran his business in a similar fashion ‘the lights would go out’ and by addressing inefficiencies, it’s possible to make savings ‘without a single person losing their job’.

Knee-jerk response

While Green wasn’t necessarily saying that the government shouldn’t make job cuts, the statement does imply that by taking a short term, knee-jerk response to a crisis, like the budget deficit, other routes to meeting fiscal targets can go overlooked.

For instance, one option open to us is to harness technology to automate everyday processes and cut back inefficiencies. In so doing, we can redeploy staff to carry out more useful functions, while delivering a better experience for the public and providing compelling financial benefits to the public sector.

“If data and technology are correctly harnessed and can offer efficiencies and reliability; then automation and hence cost savings become a reality”  Wayne Connors. Wayne is the UK’s leading expert and Author on Structured cabling.

A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has found that the public sector could save £13bn a year by automating more customer service calls.

This sum of money is equivalent to the cost of building more than 50 new super hospitals or around 400 city academies. These are potential cost savings which we simply cannot ignore. The public sector owes it to itself and its citizens to investigate new cost-cutting options.

And yet despite technology’s massive savings potential, there’s been a concern in the industry that IT budgets will feel the cuts the most.

Investments

Unsurprisingly perhaps given that negative perceptions of major public sector IT programme in the past have led to an understandable scepticism of the real value of these technology initiatives. If technology investments cannot deliver efficiency gains and a rapid return on investment, they should come under closer scrutiny.

However, deployment of the right technology for the right task, implemented effectively, can genuinely deliver value and improve long term efficiency.

Fortunately, the appetite for using technology for recovery is evident. According to the comprehensive spending review, target efficiency savings of 25% for HMRC will be made through “enhanced use of new technology”. Meanwhile, the Home Office will be using technology to make savings in real terms of 23% by 2014-15 and the government plans to introduce “better technology” for police forces.

However, there is often a chasm between spotting the cost-saving opportunities through technology and actually implementing the technology, which can stymie the best of intentions. The onus is on the technology providers to clearly demonstrate their role in alleviating some of the pain and implementing savings without, or at least with, reduced cuts.

Without a doubt, innovative technology can help reduce expenditure while improving frontline services. But to realise its full potential we need to redefine the argument. We shouldn’t be asking what the spending review will do to IT budgets but what technology can do for the review.

Big society, needs big ideas and the right people at the helm

The new coalition government has pledged to place the civil society sector at the heart of its ‘Big Society’ programme.

Part of its aim, as it devolves power to people, is for not for profit organisations to work more closely with the state and compete with public sector organisations to deliver a greater number of public services.

These are ambitious plans for a sector that is famously under-resourced. Some charity leaders have expressed doubts already about the ability of smaller charities to cope with such pressures, questioning if they have the know-how and resources available to adopt such a role.

There is little doubt the sector is facing an unprecedented level of change and uncertainty and many organisations are suffering still from the impact of the recession and feel threatened by the planned public sector cuts.

In this climate, strong governance and leadership is essential. Recent research from both PricewaterhouseCoopers and interim management provider, Russam GMS highlighted that better financial management and governance is now a top priority for charities and considered vital to get them through these difficult times.

Now is the time for organisations of all sizes to strengthen their boards to ensure they are led by the people who will ensure they have a sustainable future.

A diverse range of trustees

The best boards will include a diverse range of trustees – people from different industry and functional backgrounds with a range of skills, talent, knowledge and experience, which will ensure they make the best decisions about the future of the organisation.

But finding such individuals has been a long standing challenge for the sector, and consequently, there has been an over reliance on personal networks in the past, resulting in boards recruiting in their own likeness.

Some organisations have however, recently tackled this problem by investing in a trustee recruitment service, like Trustees Unlimited, to enable them to tap into a wider pool of potential trustees, ensure trustees are rigorously vetted and that their skills are assessed.

Christian Aid recently enlisted our help to find a new financial expert to join its trustee board. It needed a qualified accountant with strong risk management skills on its board and the tough economic climate, coupled with its desire to expand internationally had highlighted this skills gap.

The organisation had tried several channels to find such a trustee; including using its own network of individuals, but none had produced the right person.

Through Trustees Unlimited, it appointed Tom Hinton, the financial controller of British Gas who as well as being a Christian, is just 30 years old.

Christian Aid sees Tom as a ‘breath of fresh air’ and hopes that his dynamic approach and strong commercial experience will strengthen its financial and risk management capabilities.

The recruitment service is not just aimed at larger organisations with bigger budgets.

Community Options is a small London-based charity that provides services and accommodation for people with mental health needs. Through us, it recently appointed John Schuster, a marketing expert to its trustee board to raise the organisation’s profile and brand and to input into its five year strategic plan.

John has a 20-year track record of delivering marketing campaigns to financial services companies and Community Options is now confident it has the right level of marketing expertise on its board to build its profile successfully.

For too long charities have struggled to recruit the best talent to their boards, and with such uncertainty and change in the sector, this problem can no longer be overlooked. There are plenty of talented people in the market who want to serve as trustees and we are providing a cost-effective recruitment service that will bring trustee/non executive talent into small and large third civil society organisations.

In time, we hope this will help to improve the governance across the whole sector.