Denis Kaminskiy, co-founder of Arcus Global
Over the last 5 years, there has been a shift in the consulting / advisory landscape in Public Sector and Local Government. It feels like many of the more traditional approaches are rebranding or disappearing altogether to be replaced by a fancy ‘Digital’ title, perhaps using a technical term or concept here and there, or quoting some newly created model for doing roughly the same thing.
In this small series of posts (two to be precise), I want to challenge two specific concepts:
a) a concept of ‘low code’, using a visual ‘drag and drop’ style workflow engine for business application development, b) the concept of ‘minimum viable’, well, anything. I want to add a caveat, that this challenge is levelled against not so much the concepts themselves, but at their applicability to the UK Public Sector, and especially Local Government.
While COVID has shifted the focus a bit (and perhaps added more use cases, these may very well be temporary, and should a pandemic style event come back, these use cases may well come back), this should not distract from the broad concept that the Public Sector is a relatively stable, reliable entity, providing essential UNIVERSAL (as in for everyone) service to citizens and residents.
Firstly, let’s set some common concepts that this blog relies upon:
Local Government needs to save money, while continuing to deliver broadly the same service.
In order to do this, the business process needs to transform and remain flexible in the future.
Business process (people) is 90% – 99% of the cost and IT is 1%-10% of the cost. So each £ of IT spend “drives” about £10 – £100 pounds of business spend. Hence if savings of £1 are made in ICT, then they must either have NO negative impact on business, OR, the negative impact on business must be at least 10 – 100 times less than the IT saving. Otherwise it will COST money rather than save it. The calculation does not matter as much as the principle.
Small elements of functionality of application may have a large impact on business process (for example, inserting a specialist calculator into your application for tax, or giving someone an ability to draw on a map within an application, can save 20%+ of time of dealing with a request for an officer)
Current legacy applications are not fit for purpose, as stated in points 1 and 2 – many reasons for this, but this is not a controversial point and is generally accepted.
It is important that we agree on the above, especially on points 4 and 5, because there are plenty of Local Government organisations that do not, or at least do not understand / accept this. Some think that each ‘Silo’ of IT; planning, social care, or Revs & Bens are separate, and independent, each must contribute their share to the overall saving, ‘salami slice’ style.
I have written before on how misguided that is.
IT is unique in being pervasive throughout the organisation, and supporting virtually every process, despite having little intrinsic value on its own – thus the choice here is binary – if an IT saving is possible without affecting the business, go all out and reduce cost. The moment IT savings start impacting the business (like moving to a cheaper, less functional apps, or taking essential hardware from people to save money, or reducing the support for users), it is not worth the cost increases elsewhere and the emergence of ‘shadow IT’ will outstrip any IT savings made, that’s not to mention security implications of shadow IT.
On Point 5, well, old apps are ‘old’ this means that they are not made up of documented ‘API using’, ‘data disaggregating’ components or layers – they are a lump of cody flesh, that has grown so mutated and so cumbersome over time (to a greater or lesser degree) that it is really impossible to properly integrate with them. Of course, it’s entirely possible to go down the ‘lipstick on a pig’ approach and stick a shiny new front end on them and hide those old apps from users. It is even possible to inject some data into the apps to create a form, or a case. Perhaps even drive a bit of workflow here and there.
What you cannot do, is ensure that all data in the application is open, accessible and functionality can be ‘driven’ externally. Nor (typically) can this data be easily extracted (with its structure / usefulness intact), nor can the application be made properly mobile without a separate expensive, and only partially functional bolt-on such as Citrix / mobile interface or similar. Thus, things like: ‘Single View of the Customer’, ‘device independence’ and ‘platform’.
Most importantly however, it is the ability for the BUSINESS to change its process (and keep changing it in the future) in order to deliver services. Most apps are ‘hardwired’ and adjusting them is difficult / expensive and they essentially take control away from the business completely, meaning that real transformation is impossible. Lots and lots of workarounds and little excel spreadsheets or access databases exist to support the legacy applications outdated and cumbersome workflow and data.
To get out of that, they need a complete, and total re-write, not an upgrade. At this point, they are made up of ‘technical debt’, and this debt needs to be paid down!
For part two of this blog, we will focus on using Low Code approaches and some of the issues they create…
About Arcus Global
Arcus Global, formed in 2009 and based in Cambridge UK, is a market leading GovTech cloud company, delivering mission critical technology solutions that enable public sector organisations to transform their service delivery.
Arcus has developed a platform-based suite of Applications for Local and Central Government. Addressing the challenges inCitizen Digital interaction, Citizen relationship management and through specific platform based case management solutions for Planning, Building Control, Licensing and Environmental Health etc.
Arcus has grown to over 30 customers including Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Eastleigh Borough Council, The London Borough of Islington, Wiltshire County Council, Department for Culture Media & Sport and the Home Office.
Charlotte Fionda, Marketing Manager at Arcus Global