A combination of pressures prompted Derby City Council to review its on-premise data centre strategy in 2015.
Many governments around the world are considering how IT can help in the delivery of services to citizens. Projects are taking shape at different levels and on different scales, prompting questions of how best to engage with the private companies that are helping to implement these schemes. Governments have relied on technology for many years for bulk processing such as tax and benefits. But while some may be uncertain about its capability to live up to more ambitious claims, IT is undoubtedly becoming central to policy implementation, and approached correctly, the possibilities it presents are enormous.
The current government transformational agenda focuses on the priorities of citizen centricity (which is about service), shared services (which is about efficiency and cost-cutting), and professionalism (which is about people). While there has been much talk of incremental long-term supplier engagement, the current market still operates at a very brittle level of engagement. It is still the case that account managers and buyers act as the conduit between the supplier and government. If government is to be truly transformed, there needs to be a move away from this traditional buyer-supplier relationship towards broader, more collaborative and meaningful engagement to create true value for the ultimate ‘customer’ – UK society as a whole.
The thesis of this article is that certainty of outcomes can be delivered by a more holistic engagement between the public and private sectors, and we can live in a better society as a result. Good examples of this can be seen in countries such as India, where regional and national governments have teamed up with private partners to create systems that have vastly improved the lives of citizens. Such examples show that one of the ways to ensure certainty of delivery is to create partnerships and engage with the ‘Third Sector’. This is one way government can obtain real value from the private sector.
Measuring value beyond cost
In India, the way government and the private market interacts has undergone a significant shift in recent years. Instead of a traditional buyer-supplier relationship, initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Company Affairs and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have seen long-term, joint venture style engagement between the state and the private sector. The results of such projects – lower costs, increased efficiency, and most importantly, better citizen experience and participation – are instructive.
These examples demonstrate the value, beyond just cost, that can be gained from a broader engagement between public and private organisations. For citizens, cost, as measured in taxes, is only one factor that affects their experience and interaction with government. Quality, timeliness, access to and trust in the delivery of services are much more important. It is a natural progression that private vendors be judged along the same lines and appreciated for the value that they can provide beyond the simple equation of price. This gives rise to broader engagement between the public and private sector, and ultimately, better delivery of services to the citizen. Such examples also call into question the current measurement and delivery of value in the UK market.
Citizen-centric service delivery – Andhra Pradesh
So what does this type of engagement look like? First of all, government procurement of services from the private sector is conducted on a broader basis than just cost. Joint venture-style cooperation between government and private vendors, such as in the Andhra Pradesh region in India, can and do yield incredibly successful results.
Andhra Pradesh, home to 75 million people, is one of India’s most populous states. The state was facing a pressing need to cut costs and improve delivery and accessibility of services, but was finding it a challenge to overcome the expense due to decentralised delivery and the huge amount of paperwork associated with this. Alongside these problems were issues related to the scale of operations and change.
Collaboration between states was hindered by information trapped in paper-based systems and lack of reporting capabilities; the cost of monitoring, managing and pursuing tax and related payments was becoming a self-defeating exercise, particularly for remote rural communities; and many people had no access to channels of e-Government. This last point is fundamental, as it explains the low take-up of government services in the region.
To increase citizen participation across a whole range of government services, from school admissions, passport applications, and state pension applications, to land registration and utilities payments, the state worked with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to design, implement and commission the Citizen Services Portal. The portal places a wide range of services online, and combined with proven kiosk technology and commercial franchising, eliminates ‘digital exclusion’ for citizens with no online access at home – a huge hurdle in rural areas of India. Users can select content in relevant languages, including Telugu (the regional and official language), English, Hindi and Bengali.
This solution - jointly developed by the government and a private sector company - has resulted in giving more than 75 million people full access to government and state services even where they do not own their own computer. Andhra Pradesh Online is government transformation and digital inclusion in action.
Collaborative innovation – MCA-21
Bringing aboard a private sector partner early on in the procurement process and collaborating to innovate new systems is a second aspect of broader engagement. In the example of the Ministry of Company Affairs (the Indian equivalent of the UK Companies House), this innovation developed more efficient systems for the processing and tracking of company registrations, assisting the growth of the Indian economy.
Serving a population of more than one billion people, the Ministry is responsible for the registration, monitoring and regulation of India’s 700,000 companies – 500,000 of which have been set up in the last 12-15 years. There are currently around 60 million pages of company registration and accounts information in the Ministry’s files. And as the Indian economy grows, this number is continuously rising.
With just 1,250 employees to serve the whole country, the Ministry was vastly overstretched. Relying on a paper-based filing system meant that delays were endemic. For example, during the peak-filing season (October to December), completing a company’s registration took an average of 80 days. All activities, including registrations and payments, had to be performed in person. With only one regional office in each state, company representatives often had to travel long distances to transact business with the Ministry. Further to this, there was no way to track defaulters and manage haemorrhaging in revenue.
In answer to these growing problems, the Ministry worked with TCS to design a new way to interact with its stakeholders – MCA-21. The solution involved digitising over 60 million pages of company information, making documents easier to find and retrieve. More than 1,500 companies can now be registered every day, and turnaround time has been reduced from 80 days to less than a day. Compliance has been one of the greatest benefits of the scheme, as companies can file accurate returns on time and the digital signature enabled solution ensures validity of documents in a court of law.
The effectiveness of the scheme has been recognised at the highest levels. Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the Republic of India, has commented that, “The commissioning of the MCA-21 project is a landmark measure for advancing the cause of the national e-Governance plan and implementing it.” MCA-21 is a true transformational project, successfully implemented with a collaborative and broad partnership between a public body and a private sector company.
When it comes to long-term, broad engagement, the State of Gujarat exemplifies the value this type of commitment can yield. In Gujarat, India’s most industrialised state, with a population of 50.6 million, the state government has embarked on an ambitious programme to e-enable all aspects of administration and service delivery using a shared, standardised foundation. The state government delivers a full range of services to citizens and industry, including education, health, housing, transport, justice and law enforcement, as well as finance and revenue collections. Strong parallels can be drawn here with the shared services ambitions of the UK transformational government agenda, as the challenge in Gujarat involved integrating services and data from state departments, government agencies, external providers and third-party contactors into a single system.
Flexible and scalable
Gujarat engaged TCS over the period of a year to design and deliver a solution that would enable a rapid transition and provide the basis for future strategic development. The result of long-term engagement with TCS, the Integrated Workflow and Data Management System (IWDMS) delivers the promised workflow, reporting, security, document and knowledge management. To date, 100 central applications and 350 departmental applications have been deployed. The plug-and-play architecture allows for rapid deployment of new services and applications using the same foundation technology, making the solution flexible and scalable.
The result is that this is a truly joined-up government that is more agile thanks to a workflow-driven paperless approvals system that accelerate decision-making, provides transparent and efficient governance with full audit trails, and ultimately gives citizens easier access to services at a lower cost.
In the UK, the wide-ranging and ambitious T-Gov programme requires a transformed engagement style between government and the private market. In this context, viewing private companies as partners engaged in a long-term, incremental manner, can pave the way to certainty of delivery and outcomes.
Enhancing the experience
Such a commercial model has been shown, in the examples cited above, to demonstrate the value that broad engagement can bring to governments. The magnitude of the Indian schemes is extreme – the population of Gujarat, for example, is roughly the same as that of the whole of the UK – but on a smaller scale the principles remain the same. Involving private partners earlier in the project, engaging on a broader remit, and building a truly seamless partnership, not only lowers cost but also enhances the experience for the citizen. In the case of Andhra Pradesh Online, one of the broader outcomes of the project has been the creation a ‘virtuous circle’ whereby the better visibility of citizen records is helping to design better future government policies. And MCA-21 is enabling the growth of the Indian economy and encouraging entrepreneurship by smoothing the process for company registration.
Perhaps most important though is the fact that citizen engagement on both a local and national scale has increased, fostering citizen trust and certainty in government. And at the end of the day, the primary beneficiary of any government project has to be the end-user – the citizen.
A combination of pressures prompted Derby City Council to review its on-premise data centre strategy in 2015.