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  1. Technology
September 3, 2014

Vodafone: Why Gov must embrace flexible working

How the telecoms giant wants to expand the Public Services Network.

By Joe Curtis

Vodafone wants the Government to use technology to drive efficiencies and cut costs by selling off more property.

The telecoms giant has highlighted mobility, flexible working and shared services as measures Whitehall could take to save more money and boost frontline services.

Speaking at a roundtable today, director of public sector and large enterprise, Matt Key, said: "There’s more the public sector can do to drive further efficiency. It’s cultural change [that’s required].

"We’re only at the start of the journey there."

He pointed to flexible working as a way for the Government to sell off more buildings under its ‘Right to Contest’ scheme that allows the public to submit proposals for any of its £330bn worth of land and property.

"There have been some significant steps of rationalisation and reduction [but] there’s still a way to go, there’s a significant opportunity to drive real cost reduction through selling property assets," he said.

"However, that does demand a better, more flexible way of working across the public sector in terms of the way they provide services to citizens. [We want] a more flexible way to allow the public sector organisation to say ‘we don’t need 10 buildings, we only need four’."

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The telecoms firm commissioned analyst house Kable to survey 200 public sector decision makers on their priorities in June, finding that 78% cited their top aim as reducing costs, followed by frontline efficiency at 64%.

And Vodafone thinks flexible working, introducing more mobile devices to allow employees to work from home or coffee shops, would help free up space to sell off, as well as improving frontline effectiveness.

Enterprise director Phil Mottram said Vodafone’s mobile working solution helped Aberdeen City Council’s housing repair service boost its first-time fix rate from 62% to 86% simply by giving staff more time on each job by updating their devices with job details, replacing a paper-based system.

PSN

Vodafone also sees potential to expand the Public Services Network (PSN), where councils in particular locations save money by sharing back office IT.

All 33 London councils share services via the LondonPSN, while Hampshire PSN has been going since 1999.

Vodafone claimed 78% of councils are currently sharing services to save a projected £450m by end of the year, but it sees potential to expand PSNs to other public bodies, such as blue light services.

"All of these have similar back office challenges but, equally, similar frontline challenges," said Key. "So there’s a slightly more radical approach to shared services that could be adopted by government."

Mottram pointed to police using their own private mobile networks to communicate as one area Vodafone may target.

"It makes sense historically for emergency services to operate private mobile networks separate from mobile carriers. But as mobile carriers have invested more and more in their own networks and their ability to provide 4G, and network privatisation, there’s a far more robust mobile service now," he said.

Consolidation

Another area Vodafone claimed the public sector would benefit from is consolidation, saving money by using fewer suppliers to provide more services.

But this runs counter to the Government’s aim to spent 25% of its IT expenditure on SMBs. However, Key claimed there are opportunities in the market for both large suppliers and SMBs.

"We see a lot of innovation in that digital space coming out of these smaller perhaps more agile startup SMBs," he said.

"There’s some really big mission-critical hairy services in some parts of government that are very difficult to involve SMBs in. But they are probably in a minority. With the appropriate government contractual framework and security protocols there’s no reason SMBs can’t be involved in a number of services."

Security

But, with new Government Security Classifications replacing the old impact level ranking of data security in April, Key argued the Government must not be too cautious.

Key said: "Security can contribute to efficiencies and cost reduction but could also go the other way. There’s a tendency to over-secure, which can increase costs but also hurt agility, mobile and efficiency."

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