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LGSS Digital Blog

Service design for local government

Mitchell Thomason
Business Analyst

Say no to silos

Being new to the LGSS Digital team, and fairly new to public sector working in general, I’ve arrived with an abundance of hope and enthusiasm that will help to push Local Government into the 21st century. I don’t only mean in the technological sense, but in a strategic ‘ways-of-working’ sense too.

Although my new team has ‘digital’ in the title, the work we do is much more than IT solutions and support. We offer innovative thinking and try to instigate positive change to business processes as well. This means creating efficiencies, while supporting end users (the residents and tax payers who pay our wages).

In the short time that I have been in the team, I’ve been struck by a presence that affects many different councils and service areas – the silo!

The business dictionary definition of the silo is:

“A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture”.

Does this sound familiar at all to you?

Working in a silo

I came from a very structured, process-driven service area, so have first-hand experience of the unspoken resistance to support other services. Have you ever heard phrases such as – “that doesn’t fall within the remits of our team”, “we’ve got a process we need to follow to do that” or “you’ll need to find that out from another service area, we’ve not got access to that system.”

With these barriers in place, it’s extremely challenging for officers to get things done day to day, let alone a team like ours trying to introduce positive change and innovation.

Working in a silo limits the opportunities to share information and collaborate, which I think is why change can happen at such a staggeringly slow pace within the public sector.

Silos often appear when teams get stuck in legacy processes, use old systems and are guided by out-of-date corporate decisions that are no longer relevant. Since it feels so complex to untangle this mess, people are often reluctant to challenge it or champion new ideas. This ultimately limits progression of the service and organisation as a whole.

 

“Working in a silo limits the opportunities to share information and collaborate.”

Mitchell Thomason

 

What happens when services don’t share?

I experienced a silo recently when engaging with one of our partner’s housing services. This service has a heavy dependence on the information, processes and systems used by their revenues and benefits service. So this begs the question, why are they two separate services? They are reliant on one another to operate and they support the same customer base. What value is achieved from separation? Well, from the customer’s perspective, I can tell you, the answer is very little!

Customers are required to supply all information and documentation twice, circumstantial changes are not filtered through between the teams, meaning they need to update numerous systems. This often leads to the customer being misled, told inconsistent information and feeling highly frustrated with their experience.

For staff, there are often delays to complete tasks. Services may have different information about the customer, creating an additional complication to find one version of the truth. These types of issues have detrimental impacts on productivity, as well as causing frustrations for employees and customers alike.

What to do about silos…

If you’re working in a silo, it’s important to identify these issues and express them to the various stakeholders, to get people thinking about current and alternative ways of working.

Break through barriers by:

  • Information sharing via shared file systems such as Huddle
  • Open communication channels (we use Slack to update each other on progress)
  • An honest and transparent ethos to encourage learning opportunities and growth
  • The encouragement of failure
  • Agile workflows

Councils adopting a more lateral, cross-service approach are more productive, efficient and cost effective, while helping to improve the lives of their residents.

If you need support stepping outside your silo, start a conversation and get those ideas flowing.

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