Saving money and improving service levels is Job Number One for most of the UK public sector, three years into an austerity programme unparalleled in its scope since World War II. However, as our spotty progress in meeting these demands of Westminster demonstrates, the fragmented nature of information flow in far too many public service business processes is hampering pushes to better efficiency; not only that, but it’s limiting the taxpayer’s ability to get full visibility into the process.

So as more front-line employees are empowered with mobile devices, the situation becomes even more complex. Vital back-office information, which typically needs to be pulled from a number of sources, has to be made available to and accessible by different types of device – in a way that is integrated, secure and reliable.

Importantly, it also always needs to be delivered in a way that is easy for frontline staff to use – as that’s the only way such solutions ever get quickly and widely adopted, plus benefits realised. This is easier said than done, however. Until now, most mobile-working initiatives have been driven from the Town Hall and rolled out on a departmental basis.

Don’t Be Too Siloed

We conducted research with UK local government in October this year and found that the departments within local government that used mobile working most widely were repairs and maintenance (63 per cent), adult services and housing officers (both 33 per cent) and gas servicing and highways (both 30 per cent).

But a siloed approach can impair information sharing and providing mobile staff with a laptop and 3G card to access back-office systems is flawed. This only ever works when there is a good signal and even when there is a connection, users typically find that systems have not been designed with their needs in mind, becoming a hindrance, not a help.

What’s required is a solution that only ever starts from the day-to-day needs of the front-line staff – ensuring each team member has all of the information they need for each job. Even better, the completion of one job can automatically trigger the appropriate next actions, if modern workflow functionality has been included to support this.

A Different Approach To Mobile Working

So what would a different mobile working approach look like? As stated, it has to be centred on the needs of the front line staff. This means providing them with all of the work instructions, forms and contextual information they need securely at their fingertips, on the mobile device of their choice. It also means providing with the best possible user experience. It is also critical that they can work seamlessly offline, i.e. when there is no connectivity.

Corporate needs such as security, user and device management and support are still important and have to be addressed. However, they should not be the main focus. That has to be on the users, the front line staff.

A number of councils have taken this on board though, and are approaching mobile starting from the needs of the front-line staff – ensuring that each person has all of the information, and ability to update this, for each job.

For example, as Sarah Royles, Commissioning and Design Consultant at Nottinghamshire County Council, which has made user acceptance a guiding principle of its rollout, says, “We run a number of workshops as we develop a solution so staff have got all they need on their devices to do their job – building the end solution based on their feedback.”

All of the relevant information for the next batch of jobs, which may have been collated from multiple back-office systems, is pulled together here, ready to be pushed out to the relevant user for each appointment. This means that the customer’s case history, the right forms and the specifics of the job, are all available at the user’s fingertips at the point of need.

The verdict is clear – mobile working in the public sector should be intuitive, empowering and transformational. It must work with the employee’s device of choice and be user-driven. The danger is that if it isn’t all these things, managers may simply find themselves incurring more expense without the hoped-for benefits – waste no one can afford.