Cash-strapped public sector can improve comms and still save money

Improved communications channels with the public will really pay off...

The public sector has to save money and yet improve its communications with citizens. Fortunately, the technology exists to accomplish both goals, says Louella Fernandes.

The UK public sector is under pressure to deliver cost savings and make efficiencies, but at the same time it has to satisfy rising expectations from citizens in an increasingly diverse society.

Cutting the cost of communications is one area where the public sector can reduce waste, deliver cross-channel links and ultimately improve engagement with citizens.

The effectiveness of public services relies on reliable, accurate and clear communications. It must offer a broad palette of services to a diverse population across channels with universal reach and affordability. Today's citizen communications must take account of accessibility needs, language requirements and the growing use of digital channels such as the web, email and SMS.

Government bodies such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Department of Health and the Department for Transport produce millions of paper-based citizen communication documents every year. Think housing benefits, disability allowances, council tax statements, vehicle tax reminders and other personal correspondence.

Conventional channels
Despite the rapid growth of the internet, telephone and paper communication remain the most common communication for many public services. The DWP estimated that it generated 57 million postal communications in 2008.

Such reliance on printed communication translates into significant costs in staff time, printing, stationery and postage. Of course, there is also the environmental impact through use of materials and their delivery.

As a result, many public sector organisations have already begun the move to less costly online channels to reduce call volumes to contact centres. The move to online applications, such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's (DVLA) electronic vehicle licensing or HMRC's online self-assessment, has helped lower the costs associated with the printing, storage and postage of paper forms.

People walking in street scene

Poor communication can damage citizen's perceptions and cause inefficiency within the public sector
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

While the use of online services is becoming more widespread, the speed with which cheaper online channels have been adopted has often resulted in a bolt-on approach, leading to the poor integration of electronic communications with traditional face-to-face or paper-based channels.

To make matters worse, citizen correspondence is typically managed with cumbersome tools, using basic decentralised systems for document creation and distribution across channels. Often, a multitude of templates must be created and maintained, placing a heavy burden on IT resources.

Lack of centralisation
This approach is costly and time-consuming, and the lack of centralisation of communications processes results in unclear, inconsistent and generic communication that is not tailored to a citizen's needs or circumstances.

Poor communications impair the experience of the citizen and the efficiency of public sector workers. Unclear, inaccurate or incomplete communication increases...