23rd April 2020
People power: mobilising the public sector workforce
With a change in the working environment for many of our public services, Tony Hughes explores the potential of mobile technology to support remote working and increase productivity.
Smartphones and tablets are such a fixture of our lives that it’s hard to imagine that it’s little more than 12 years since Apple’s first iPhone launched. Since then, mobile devices have transformed the way we do everything from shopping and socialising, through dating and political activism, to media consumption.
The revolution that began in the personal sphere has also had a major impact in the professional domain. Many organisations in both the private and public sectors now leverage developments in mobile technology to improve the delivery of back-end applications and data to mobile workers, in turn improving productivity, morale and helping achieve a better work-life balance.
Such is the perceived importance of mobility to UK business that the Cabinet Office recognises it as a cornerstone of its Smart Working Code of Practice of the British Standard Institute (formally BSI-PAS3000). As a result, the Government now expects 70% of its own departments and agencies to align with the guidelines by 2020, while a compliance target of 100% has been set for 2022.
But while the widespread adoption of mobile technology has undoubtedly been a major contributor to workforce productivity in some government agencies, it’s still far from the norm for the public sector as a whole.
Nonetheless, the potential opportunities for suppliers in application mobilisation are huge: for example, GlobalData Technology estimates that the market for mobile application platform management tools across the UK government, healthcare and education sectors will grow from current estimates of £47m to £159m in 2022.
The relatively slow uptake of mobility is surprising, given the clear benefits arising. Mobile healthcare practitioners typically spend only one third of any working day with patients, the rest taken up with travel and administration work. Using a mobile productivity app rather than pen and paper means there’s less need to go to the office and more time to spend with patients.
Social housing is another segment where the use of mobile apps can greatly benefit workers, allowing them, on average, to complete at least one extra job per day, which adds up to savings of around £24,000 per frontline housing employee per year.
However, the greatest beneficiaries of mobile workforce productivity are likely to be in local government where technologies that can help workers work smarter, rather than harder, are vital to offset ever-more challenging budget constraints.
For instance, Tower Hamlets Council in London has given canvassers tablets equipped with Civica’s Mobile Canvasser App – which automatically syncs with Xpress Register, negating the need to manually enter records. These canvassers completed almost 22 times as many initial registration applications (out of an electorate of around 200,000) than those using paper. This saved an estimated net £30,000 on the council’s investment.
However, enabling a greater uptake of mobile workforce productivity apps in the public sector is not simply a case of launching a mobile front end to an existing back-end application. The challenge to change existing priorities can still be a big leap for public sector organisations to make and some cultural barriers to adoption of mobile workforce solutions remain. These barriers can be as simple as persuading public sector organisations to abandon paper for mobile.
The real key to success is to engage both the public sector organisation, and users within it, when selling the advantages of mobile, and to recognise that every mobile project is really a change management project. As our Civica North Star lab is currently exploring, this requires a holistic understanding of mobile application development and user experience, as well as a combination of technical knowhow with a strong understanding of business processes and priorities.
It’s vital for suppliers such as Civica to build mobile workforce systems backwards: to talk about use cases and create storyboards representing what users want before working out the data flow and how the mobile app will interface with back end systems. These might include integrating an array of applications that were historically standalone, such as timesheets, asset management systems and dynamic scheduling engines.
It is also incumbent on us to standardise our mobile application development and user experience methodologies across our complete product portfolios. Historically, this has been hard to achieve given the large number of device variants (in terms of operating systems, OS versions and hardware) typically in use within a workforce, especially where a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy has been in place.
However, this is now starting to change as application providers are realising the benefits of the new breed of cross-platform development environments.
The benefits of embracing these approaches can be considerable for both suppliers and customers, especially where large mobile workforces are concerned. For example, the Department for Transport’s mobile-enabled CRaSH collision reporting system, developed in partnership with Civica, is saving an estimated £7.5m per year across police forces in England and Wales. The app, which records time and geographical location, helps police forces record and manage road traffic collisions more efficiently at the scene of the incident. It also helps inform road network improvements by sharing the data collected with the DfT, Highways England and local councils to help save lives on UK roads.
Some resistance to the adoption of mobile workforce productivity apps in the public sector is still to be expected. Nonetheless, with government guidelines now favouring the use of mobile workforce apps, the incentives and knowhow are now in place for a revolution in mobile-enabled productivity in the public sector.
*In association with Tony Cripps, Principal Analyst, GlobalData