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Dave Pearce Q&A

How Bolton and Wigan Councils have overcome the challenges of managing disaggregated services

In a world of disaggregated services and omni-channel touchpoints, the service centre is a key enabler to organisational productivity. In a recent webinar hosted by Agilisys and featuring Dave Pearce, Chief Technology Officer from the Bolton & Wigan IT Partnership, this topic was discussed further.

Following on from that webinar, Digital by Default News caught up with Dave Pearce to find out more about the points he made on the webinar.

The Wigan and Bolton IT Partnership has successfully set up a next generation service centre. What was the driving force behind it and what impact did it have on your staff and citizens?

To be honest, the creation of the service centre we have today was more of an organic process.  In February 2013, we partnered with Agilisys for the delivery of our ICT services; part of this agreement was for the provision of a service desk and service operations centre.  

Back then we had multiple desks – Bolton Council, Wigan Council, Wigan and Leigh Homes (now part of Wigan Council) and Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (now Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles).  One of the key issues we needed to address in the immediate term, was to ensure these three disparate desks were joined up into one streamlined core service desk function, with agents who were knowledgeable about our then diverse infrastructure and the range of services provided by each of the organisations.

We also wanted a service desk which would be available to our users outside of the core hours they were used to with our in-house provision.  As the organisations move to an increasingly agile, flexible, delivery, we wanted to have the ability to support our users as they deliver services to citizens in an ‘any time, any place’ model of working, as much as economically possible.

What does this service model look like in reality and what benefits does it yeild for you, your staff and your residents?

The 'any time, any place' model of delivery I referred to earlier, has become our standard approach. In addition to the work we are undertaking at the Greater Manchester Level, we are moving at speed locally into a multi-agency environment, with health and blue light services working side-by-side to support citizens with varying levels of need; different models of delivery, from these multiple organisations, are having to come together.

What does this mean for IT? Our colleagues on the frontline, need to be able to interact with multiple systems, data sets and information from across a plethora of sources, including from our partner agencies.

We've made quite a bit of headway in this area. Take Bolton, for example, where we've got two segregated VDI environments that we're able to serve up on the same desktop. Since the implementation of our shared desktop model, health staff from the Bolton Foundation Trust are able to share buildings and equipment with council staff, with each being able to log into their own environments.

Will this shared philosophy continue to grow?

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), and Health and Social Care Partnerships will most definitely continue to develop and strengthen over time. GM Connect will bring data together from a number of areas, to better deliver services to our residents.

With the right information sharing agreements in place, and the right security applied to systems, we will become more efficient by joining up data from the different sources, giving one common view across not just Bolton and Wigan, but across our partners, and across the Greater Manchester region in general. This will enable colleagues to provide quicker responses, identify patterns, and boost early intervention, providing a better service for our residents at a potential reduced cost.

How are you supported from a client perspective?

From a client perspective we're supported 24/7 – and we're confident it works. On Boxing Day, we had an issue with our email service and, despite it happening late in the evening, we made one phone call and got it sorted that evening. The mechanisms work; the pieces are in place in terms of making sure the right staff are there, the right levels of authorisation are in place from each side and, if there is something that needs to be dealt with, we can get on with it.

One problem we often hear about the development of service centres is bringing together different stages and levels of IT maturity. How have you overcome this problem?

At the beginning of the partnership, we did have an issue with maturity and varying levels of service, but we have been able to standardise into one core service that's aligned to the ITIL service management practices appropriate for our size and scale. I believe it's about the appropriateness of frameworks and understanding where you need more, or less, rigour depending on the operation you run. Like I say, this is in place and embedded now.

Is this solution flexible and scalable?

Absolutely, yes. One of the key points I made during the webinar was around periods of high demand on the service desk, and how the service centre model flexes to support this.

In addition to the IVR messaging which we use to help people understand we are aware of an issue so they don't need to hold on, when we are experiencing a high priority incident and are receiving a lot of telephone calls, through the agility of the model the service operations centre are able to move staff onto our service desk to manage demand and ensure users are responded to within an acceptable timeframe.  This ability to swiftly draft in additional support, reduces the negative impact to abandonment rate which would be seen in a traditional delivery, and the use of the ‘License to Support’ training model ensures that agents drafted in have knowledge of our account.

It is also important to note that our service desk operates a multifunction workforce with different skill levels.  We understand the skills individuals have and utilise them to the full.

How do you deal with the challenge of managing that disaggregated supply chain?

Where we have contracted services involving the IT stack, we seek to understand which elements of these are material to delivery of the service. Where possible, we have sought to bring material contracted services under our Agilisys Agreement, giving us clarity of end-to-end SLAs, and reducing the ‘hot-potato’ mentality and resultant ‘stop-the-clock’ which ultimately impacts the reputation of the IT service.  Where it is not considered appropriate/ feasible to bring a contract into this model, we have a Third-Party service description which means that Agilisys work on our behalf, liaising with third parties such as software vendors, to manage incidents and requests in order to mitigate time delays as far as possible.

Quality triage of customer contacts at the service centre is fundamental in ensuring requests are handed over to the most appropriate resource, whether that be Agilisys, Wigan’s internal IT Application Support resolver team, Bolton’s application support teams which are embedded into the business, or a third party.

The key thing is maintaining good relationships across the board, understanding the landscape in terms of lines of demarcation of responsibility, and understanding the various constraints which may come into play.

Leading on from that, how is multi-supplier collaboration encouraged and incentivised?

To incentivise things is difficult within local government.  However, Agilisys do have the ability to incentivise staff performance, which is a benefit of working with a partner.

It’s worth pointing out that Agilisys’ organisational size allows for the building of relationships. They’re a comfortable size: big enough to deliver the required service, but also small enough that you can speak to the same people all the time. Relationships form between account managers here, third-party suppliers, and Agilisys and, because Agilisys delivers a breadth of services for us, they are also able to help to integrate software and solutions into the wider IT environment.

You mentioned that you have a multi-skilled staff pool within the service centre -  how do you encourage them to work within a service centre as opposed to any opportunities to work more senior technical roles?

From a customer perspective, the more that can be resolved or provided on the desk, the better. Our service centre is taking on more, so there is more first-time fix happening but it’s not the absolute measure. However, first time fix is a difficult one because it can become an obsession and is often at odds with other measures such as time a user is held on the call and the impact to number available agents. Ensuring service desk agents are engaged with the ‘bringing into service’ model means they are fully engaged with new products and solutions prior to rollout.  Agilisys also embrace a shift left approach which requires regular upskilling of service desk agents.

Data protection and privacy is clearly very topical. How are you managing data ownership?

You’re right, it is very topical and rightly so. Taking ownership of data is difficult in today’s world, where there is an increasing requirement to share data in order to help our citizen’s in the most effective way.

A key point here is to remember that it’s about more than just than IT. Information governance, data protection officers, GDPR specialists and IT departments must all come together to support the changing requirements. The service desk has a role to play, as does every part of the wider governance structure.

From our IT perspective, we’ve got all of the necessary compliance measures in place for people handling calls through the service desk, and our information governance colleagues are educating users about the information they’re sharing and what will happen to it.

Our key message is about colleagues developing a 'keeping just enough for long enough' attitude.

To find out more about the role of a next generation service centres, here is five top tips to delivering a world class service desk.