Cost savings and service
improvement strategies in the
Public Sector: Channel shifting
Describes what the term ‘channel shifting’ means in relation to local government.
Discusses how to choose the right services to shift channels making substantial savings.
Proposes how to design and construct the web site to deliver those savings.
Provides thoughts on how to measure the results.
Delivering local government services is
expensive. Tens of thousands of people
across the public sector are employed and
millions of pounds are spent in doing so.
What’s a “Channel”? Which Services to shift?
Organisations are ‘shifting’ services from more It’s clear some services require a ‘hands on’
expensive channels (methods of delivery) e.g. approach, e.g. social care. These services are
from ‘face to face’ and ‘phone’ towards the web going to be impossible to actually deliver via
where costs are cheaper and access to them a virtual system like the web, although some
is possible 24hrs a day. Cutting costs and of the functions around that delivered service
improving customer services; the holy grail of are capable of being shifted. Examples would
government aspirations. be booking appointments, choosing services,
assisting carers with choices or even assisting
Placing information up on the web is not new. carers to report back to the office. Service delivery
Obviously. The first flush of savings brought isn’t just about external services. Services can be
about by using the web, back in the early 90’s delivered to the internal clients too.
involved putting printed material, like catalogues,
on the web, so they could be accessed any time, The obvious choices for shifting are those
any place, anywhere (sometimes called Martini where the delivery number is greatest and
access), any printing is done by the client. the service is capable of becoming digital. An
Removing printing, letter stuffing and postage example would be booking and notification of
costs from the supplier showed considerable, school placements.
Occurring in a couple of peaks during the year the
The commercial world moved on from that volume is high, as is the expectation for it to be
simplistic, early, approach towards more carried out online (high customer expectation of
transactional activities where the client and the a service being delivered online is an important
organisation interact, usually via a form of some factor to consider when looking at channel
sort. We’ve all used these; making bookings, shifting). The overhead of taking calls and the
buying a product or service e.g. airline tickets or administration aspect of school placements is
simply registering for one thing or another. very high. The savings are achieved both in the
reduction of call answering and the automation of
Local government uses thousands of forms for the back end process.
this type of transactional activity between itself
and the client. Councils use thousands of forms Some councils are achieving high levels of usage
for services large and small. The input from which for the electronic school placements systems with
may or may not interact with the Council’s back- well over 50% preferring to book and be notified
end accounting or booking systems. The problem of their placement by this method.
is they’re not all electronic.
So high volume, capability of being web driven A recent assessment of a County web site showed
and high expectation of electronic service delivery around 20% of visitors used Search. The statistics
are all good markers for shifting the channel to an experts who produced the data considered this
electronic format. figure, on the high side. Search facilities on
private sector sites are used significantly less on
The key thing to remember is that it’s not average than those on Local Government sites
supposed to be easy for you, the council. That’s probably because the information is flatter with
not the reason to channel shift, though it helps. fewer layers of data provided. Local Government
The customer is the prime focus and any shifting sites are just that much more complex.
of channels has to make it easier for the client.
The ability to easily find the service you have
shifted using obvious navigation or search is
critical to the service being taken up. Marketing
“Make it easy for the client, don’t
of the service to the public is important too.
make them have to think. Simplify Two obvious statements you may think, but web
and watch those services get used developers don’t always seriously consider the
usability of a web site.
and the savings stack up.”
Transactions are now being grouped on some web
sites into a ‘do it online’ element, making it easy
What are the channel costs? for clients to see and browse just what services are
Socitm (The Society of IT Managers) recently
(2009) produced a set of costs for each of the The quality of the search is critical. Using the
channels. The benchmarking work they carried search may be the clients last option to discover
out show the costs per visitor to councils as being that gem of a service you have hidden away
£7.40 for face-to-face, £2.90 for the telephone somewhere so don’t forget to seed your search
and just £0.32 for web enquiries. and tag the data to make it readily available.
The relevance of design, usability From some work they carried out Socitm estimate
and search. that 20% of visitors leave local government web
sites empty handed, not having found what they
For channel shifting to the web to work, the sites were looking for.
have to work. There are a number of factors which
make for a good web site. Socitm carry out a Excellent pages with strong tagging and a slick
review of all of the UK’s local government web and efficient search will help to reduce this ‘did
sites each year called ‘Better Connected’. not find’ (DNF) figure, as of course would quick
Talk of look and feel and usability show this is not and simple navigation and ‘help’ elements along
something that can be measured in a mechanical the way. It is safe to say though this DNF figure
manner. It’s about the proper understanding of is due in part to the vagaries of the British public
visitors and how they get at the information and what they expect to find on a Council web
provided. It’s about how the site feels to the site. Without a change in searching habits it is
average user, how easy it is to navigate, and unlikely this 20% DNF figure will ever be at zero.
importantly, how easy it is to find information.
“It’s clear from
that good website
is not only a science.
It’s an art.”
Measuring the savings those visitors would telephone the organisation
to get the information. So that might be say
You’ve made the changes and shifted the 250,000 visits x £2.58 = £645,000 saving
services but what does that mean in real terms? because the web takes those interactions at a
How can you determine what you are saving by cheaper cost.
clients using a web site designed and technically
managed to maximise the savings? It could be argued this is an exaggeration as
some might simply not bother at all, and of
Peter Barton (Head of web and information course others may choose a ‘face to face’ visit
governance at Lincolnshire County Council) (even higher cost)*. Barton suggests you radically
produced a piece that serves to tease out the reduce your savings calculation to a
savings. This piece, produced in 2009, holds as less controversial level by using only 10% of
true today as then. Called “Lets turn off the web” the visits. That’s still £64,500 saving in a
It can be found here http://lccwaistline.wordpress. month. Nearly £800,000 a year based on
com/2009/07/29/lets-turn-off-the-web/ 250,000 visits per month.
Using Socitm’s figures of cost per user per Barton’s figures are startling and remember they
channel and your visitor stats the process is are using only 10% of the possible savings. It can
simple. For example take the amount of visits to be seen therefore that channel shifting of services
the web site for your chosen sample month. Using does make real savings the Council can turn into
the ‘Lets Turn off the Web’ (LTOTW) principle, cashable savings by re-organisation of the process
multiply the amount of visits by the difference and staff.
between web and phone call costs - because if the
web is not there then the firsts assumption is
How Abacus solves the problem
Abacus e-Media not only produce excellent and Socitm also produce stats based on a questionnaire
proven Content Management Software (CMS)
that some councils use on their sites. It’s an exit
but uniquely they have an award winning design
element to their business too. The two facets work poll. One of the questions it asks is “if you did not
together to deliver form and function and produce get your answer from the web which of the other
web sites that win awards and deliver on promises
to the client and their clients.
channels would you choose”. 42% said that they
would have used the telephone, 21% said they
Abacus’ designers are market leaders in producing
strong, heavily used, local government and
would have sent an e-mail and 10% said they
magazine publishing sites with excellent usability. would have made a personal visit.
Especially important to their Local Government
clients, they are also acknowledged experts in
making sites accessible, working, as they do, with Conclusion
the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).
External non-machine testers i.e. real people with Local Government web sites are under scrutiny
real disabilities, hold Abacus’ sites in high regard from many sides; never more so than during this
for the quality of their work in making their web period of economies. Never has it been more
sites accessible to all. important to improve service and provide cuts.
As discussed above the ability to get to data Abacus delivers software, design and the
quickly and easily is vital on any web site but knowledge and implementation support to deliver
especially important on large local government savings via the web. These services are provided
web sites with a multitude of services and by Abacus’ clients reliably, cost effectively and
thousands of pages of data. The search tool with a customer focus akin to obsession.
embedded in the Abacus CMS provides a
configurable and accurate search with the special Abacus delivers for their clients and
benefit of simplicity using a ‘facet’ type results their client’s clients’.
system which makes data easier to get to on
complex Local Government sites.
Please have a look at our cost cutting
Uniquely the CMS offers a “spin block” concept calculator, to see what you might be able to
providing easy, quick configuration to pull deep save by channel shifting to the web
data up onto any part of the site. Making those
‘midweek’ change requirements to the web site
really simple and cost free. our-focus/cost-cutting-calculator
At last the ability to tweak, pull, push, alter,
manipulate, highlight data with a few key strokes
and without cause to call in the techies and wait
for 3 days to get it done. How does this help you
to channel shift?
Using spin blocks you can, in a simple, cost free
way, highlight areas, information or processes so
driving your clients towards the cheaper option for
service delivery, and this is achieved as simply as
you would edit text.
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