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Solving the “Cost/Reach Equation” in the Public Sector

When the world economy went into recession, many political officials and commentators talked about “not wasting a crisis” – making sure we took the opportunity to learn some lessons from the downturn and solve problems that would make the economy — and the world — more cost efficient. Today, while there are brighter signs around economic recovery, we still face a seemingly intractable parcel of outstanding issues.  Indeed many countries around the world are still struggling with both growing their economies and reducing budget deficits.

Rather than “not wasting a crisis” perhaps we should be thinking about not making a “crisis of waste.”  Said simply, there are enormous efficiencies available to public entities to improve the lives and well being of citizens through transformational efforts that can lower the cost and increase the availability and quality of citizen services. 

Across the globe, the public sector faces one clear and present challenge: the reality of increased service requirements bonded to constrained or declining budgets.  Demographic shifts, growing social expectations, and an increasingly more complex and dangerous world are driving enhanced public sector requirements to serve and protect citizens.  However the need to address deficit spending remains the defining paradox. The conundrum created by increasing need to serve and decreasing ability to pay is a “cost/reach gap.” 

For the first time in several generations public leaders worldwide are rethinking both how they deliver citizen services as well as how they consume information technology.  Many experts believe governments should not revert to traditional processes and IT practices.  Instead, they should look for ways to improve both cost effectiveness and service.  Indeed, the public sector could actually lead the private sector in transformational approaches to building efficiency and driving customer satisfaction through innovation in cloud computing services, cyber security, mobility, and video. 

Governments are looking to technology to improve efficacy and efficiency of service delivery in key mission areas – intelligence, defense and security, economic development, education, and health care. In the area of healthcare, practitioners and payers are looking at remote forms of care like Cisco’s HealthPresence to extend the reach and availability of medical services, and particularly to help leverage and defray the typically high cost of specialist consults and other services that are typically geographically scattered.  Being able to remotely “visit” with a medical specialist means less waste for everyone. For the patient, it means greater availability and quality of service, for the health practitioner, it means more time helping patients and less time travelling, and for the employer it means lower productivity losses.  

Cloud computing is another area where governments and other public entities are cutting waste.  Replacing large one-off department and agency- level system resources and sharing IT capabilities through a secure government cloud, or G – cloud, are becoming realities and gaining traction in the UK and Germany as well as a range of other nations.  

While in the past technology has been often lauded for streamlining back office operations and speeding transactions, today’s challenges mean thinking about technology in a much bigger and more far-reaching way. Today’s needs are about cutting costs, for sure. What’s new is the triple expectation of reducing costs while increasing high-quality public support and driving new and higher-performing internal processes that connect people to solve problems and advance new ideas in highly useful and efficient ways. 

A good example of this was recently announced by our partner, AT&T, with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).  The GSA recognized that it needed to accelerate collaboration among a range of government agencies and put in place a managed, pay-as-you-go TelePresence service.   The GSA took advantage of a public/private partnership with AT&T so regional meetings, training, inter-agency planning, crisis management, partner and supplier discussions can all use this service and pay for it on an hourly basis, avoiding agency start-up costs. 

This is just one example of public and private partners working together to overcome the cost/reach gap and it is the tip of the iceberg.  As technology solution providers like Cisco and forward-thinking public sector leaders work together to address how to best support increasingly complex public needs, I believe we will build a new public sector paradigm that will address the cost/reach gap in ways that will be both cost effective and provide new and better solutions for our citizens.

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Meet Colin – the new face of Generation C

“Colin is a 20-year-old computer science student living in London with two other students in the year 2020. He enjoys backpacking, sports, music, and gaming. He has a primary digital device (PDD) that keeps him connected 24 hours a day — at home, in transit, at school. He uses it to download and record music, video, and other content, and to keep in touch with his family, friends, and an ever-widening circle of acquaintances. His apartment is equipped with the latest wireless home technology, giving him superfast download speeds of up to 100 Mbps.” Read More »

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Education- the new currency of globalisation

“Chinese students are taking degrees taught in English in Finnish universities; the Sorbonne is awarding French degrees in Abu Dhabi; US universities are opening in China and South Korean universities are switching teaching to English so they can compete with everyone else.” – Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent Read More »

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Collaboration – How to do it? PART 1 – Technology

We’ve covered in my previous blogs the definition of collaboration and the benefits and reasons to do it.  Now we have come to the really difficult part — how to do it.

“Effective collaboration” requires a major focus on culture, the deployment and use of technology, and the adoption of process and governance.  Having the technology but not using it effectively could lead to a lot of bad meetings.  Having process and technology but not having a culture that embraces and promotes collaboration could lead to bad collaboration (I already told you this is worse than no collaboration).

Even with all the hoopla on this topic, there are few companies focusing on all three success factors (technology, process and culture) and thus failing to realize the full potential of collaboration. I’ll address each of these in separate blogs, starting with technology.

Before we get too far, there are a few things to consider.  First, collaboration is not a new topic and has been around since the beginning of time.  Cavemen collaborated while hunting.  Parents collaborate with each other in PTA meetings.  We collaborate in business to provide increased value to our customers and shareholders.  The point being that most of us know how to collaborate effectively …as long as it’s FACE TO FACE.

Technology is changing the way we collaborate.  We no longer need to be in the same place at the same time to achieve great results.  Common citizens in the Middle East are using social media to challenge governments.  Daily, thousands of Cisco employees leverage high def video to collaborate. And millions of people collaborate via web meetings; wikis, blogs, user generated videos and discussion forums.

The change is dramatic and happening at lightning speed. Most of this collaboration is virtual versus face to face (in person).  This is very important to emphasize because success will require us to use new tools to effectively collaborate.

New world, new rules, new tools!

Here are my tips on how to get going at your company:

  1. Experiment – Many large enterprises have very strict processes and guidelines on the adoption of new company-wide technology deployments.  I suggest adopting an approach of experimentation.  Without experimentation you may miss a game changing technology.
  2. Start Small – Engage in three to four small technology deployments and see what works.
  3. Measure / Learn – At the onset of these experiments make sure you figure out a way to capture and measure the impact of these technologies.  The data/results are key in gaining support from the executive team.
  4. Executive Sponsor – Find an executive sponsor who is interested in technology or can gain the most from it.  Keep them informed on a regular basis.
  5. Expect Failure – Not everything will work.  Keep documentation on what failed and why.
  6. Trust – This is one of the key things to understand. Nothing replaces face-to-face meetings.  The key human characteristic that enables or hinders collaboration is trust.  Technologies like high definition video will have a significant impact on trust since facial expressions and body language are recognized.  That makes HD video a valuable tool if the teams have never met or if their personal relationships are limited.  Inversely, audio conferencing has very little impact on building trust. Use the right tool for the job!
  7. Inside/Outside Company – To maximize the potential of any collaboration effort, consider how to get people outside your company to participate.  Consider suppliers,  partners and customers as potential participants and contributors.  Some great things may happen!

Technology is changing everything and requires us to experiment with what’s available. You can’t leverage something unless you try, measure and learn from it.  As always, I welcome your comments and wish you well on your own collaboration journey!  I’d like to hear from you on Twitter.


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How technology is evolving the business card

The exchange of business cards is a long-standing tradition that spans all the way back to the 15th century when folks in China used to exchange “visiting cards” or “calling cards” – cards that visitors wrote their names, notes or messages. The cards were introduced in Europe in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV.

Bobbie Johnson, Technology reporter for BBC News, has written a thought-provoking article on the effect technology is having on business cards.

Read More »

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