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News May 22, 2015

Self service in the public reality

On 5-7 May around 150 municipal representatives attended KommITS Digitaliseringsdagar 2015 (KommITS Digitisation Days 2015), which was held at Clarion Hotel Post in Gothenburg. A number of suppliers were also present, including Enfo Zipper, who presented the latest technology for municipal IT operations. The themes covered mobility, security, operational development supported by IT, automation and self service, which are high up on the municipal IT agenda. Politicians, experts and municipal representatives gave interesting and exciting presentations that gave rise to both discussion and reflection.

Anders Nyström, an advisor at the Government Offices of Sweden, Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, painted the general picture and explained the goals of Swedish IT policy. Sweden aims to be the best in the world at using the opportunities created by digitisation. There has been an e-delegation since 2009 and it will achieve its objective this summer. Much has been done in terms of connection, levels of service utilisation online, e-administration and e-health. Sweden is well placed on the whole compared with other countries. However, IT costs are high and represent the State’s second highest expense. No one seems to be really sure about the exact scale of IT costs. Anders mentioned that the cost of IT for the State is somewhere between SEK 24 and 31 billion per annum.

Nils Knutsson and Ulf Nygren from Tieto presented the results of their questionnaire survey of 90 municipalities. Among other things, it showed that IT costs have risen dramatically among Swedish municipalities. In 2014 they totalled SEK 12.9 billion, compared with SEK 10.3 billion in 2008, when the previous survey was conducted. The number of IT employees in municipalities has also increased and shows no sign of waning. Staff costs account for the major part of IT costs, in both municipalities and authorities. Nils and Ulf agreed that the use of cloud services and the increasing level of digitisation will reallocate costs in future.

During the breaks Enfo Zipper had the chance to chat with many attendees, who explained that the automation of workflows and self service are high on many of their agendas. Many municipalities have made good progress, but there is tremendous potential and operations can be digitised to a much greater extent. Ulf Svensson from the County Administrative Board explained during one breakout session that the introduction of self service, in this case the ZervicePoint service portal from Enfo Zipper, has introduced a totally new way of working that has rationalised operations. After only two months the results are evident, and in due course it will be possible to free up time corresponding to two full-time positions, who can instead focus on proactive work and the sharing of competence.

Anette Larsson, Business Developer at Härryda Municipality, has conducted a preliminary study into how administrative operations can be rationalised through self service. During her session in the Enfo room she described how far too many processes are dependent on individuals, which produces bottlenecks and long lead times. For example, maybe the only person who can issue passes is ill or on holiday, so cases have to wait or are passed around.

This is particularly evident when a new employee arrives, as many things need to be ordered in parallel and new data entered into various systems. With an automated procedure in which dependence on individuals and unnecessary lead times are bypassed, the municipality can start to reallocate its high IT costs. The preliminary study resulted in a complete flowchart of processes and procedures relating to commencement of employment, modification of employment and termination of employment. All of the steps and work processes were mapped out and measured in terms of time (in minutes). The costs of continuing in the old way were far higher than what it would cost to actually go out and procure a modern self-service portal that automates large parts of the employment process at Härryda Municipality.

“We’re not looking to save money, we want to maximise the use of taxpayers’ money.” Ulf Svensson used this clever argument when he encountered internal concern from employees, who wondered whether the service portal would be replacing their jobs. The new work method means that the County Administrative Board avoids having to replace staff who retire, and it also frees up time that the IT Unit can instead spend on proactive IT work to meet the demands its citizens place on a modern municipality.

“Automating and introducing self service is a form of operational development.” These were Ulf’s words, which are echoed by Anette and others in the same situation. Self service is not just an issue for the IT department. If you start looking to automate and digitise processes, you look under stones that have been resting in the same place for a long time. Of course this results in a desire to rationalise, remove, change and improve, which affects the whole operation as well as other bodies involved in various processes. ”Don’t underestimate the process of change when you’re introducing self service,” was Ulf’s advice to his audience, also pointing out that it is important to “market” the benefits for the internal operation in a way that is relevant to them.

Annette from Härryda Municipality is careful to point out that she does not believe that you should invest in self service unless you also budget for a few years of developing the product. “We don’t want to introduce a portal that then dies,” were her closing words, and we at Enfo Zipper can only agree. Making do with launching a portal with a small number of automated services is like having a big fridge that only contains a carton of milk. Fill it up, offer more! The opportunities for digitisation and automation in the future are unlimited.

To summarise, if you and your municipality are considering self service, there are a few important issues to bear in mind:

  1. A preliminary study to prove actual savings and the benefit of the investment.
  2. Time for operational and process development.
  3. Communicate benefit rather than savings.
  4. Budget for the future development of self service.