Public Services > Central Government

Mobile technology: no longer disruptive but constructive

Published 23 August 2015

Making the business case for mobility is straightforward on paper. But, argues Ian Dalton, president, Global Government and Health at BT Global Services, too many public sector organisations are still struggling to introduce and manage mobile technologies


Two thirds of Britons now own a smartphone and use it for nearly two hours every day . It's not all Instagram and iTunes. We also make GP appointments online, order new wheelie bins, pay for school meals, and download e-books from the local library. NHS Choices offers us a library of approved health apps. All this personal experience means many of us already understand how mobility can make our public services more efficient and more productive.

Making the business case for mobility is straightforward on paper. It can save up to two hours per person per day by eliminating paperwork and unproductive travel, by streamlining workflows and consolidating data capture. This can translate into annual savings of several thousand pounds per employee.

The vast majority of public sector leaders understand that mobility is strategically important. But too many are still struggling to introduce and manage mobile technologies. They, their organisations and the communities they serve are missing out on realbenefits.

Out of the office and on the move

If the public sector really wants to cut down on office space, then more mobile working is going to be essential. Employees working from home, on the move or from multiple office locations will all need to connect with central systems and download/upload often sensitive information using mobile devices. But only 14 per cent of public sector leaders tell us their people can currently do this.A third still rely on paper processes. Integration of back office systems is of course relatively challenging but there are simple approaches which mean employees can securely collect and process information in the field.

One such example is Humber NHS Foundation Trust, which has freed its clinical practitioners from offices and clinics by giving them smartphones and tablets. Apps connect them with all the information and services they need to deliver care, whether they're in the office, on the go or at the patient's home. If the need arises to share patient information, perhaps with social services, the nurse can request and record the patient's consent on the spot.Even if the device is offline, a nurse can use it to take notes which will automatically and securely upload as soon as there is a connection.

Overcoming the obstacles

Security is understandably a big issue for the public sector. Yet mobile technologies are in many ways at least, if not more, secure than paper records which are so easily mislaid, copied or damaged. Electronic records can be encrypted, access restricted to a 'need to know' basis and no confidential information need ever be stored on a mobile device.

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is the first UK trust to use a single electronic, paperless system to share patient information, replacing a legacy mix of pagers, fixed telephones anddesktop PCs with Apple devices. Thousands of doctors and nurses across NHS hospitals in Nottingham now record patient information and communicate with each other in real time information, hugely improving their ability to respond quickly to those in their care. Previously, a doctor on call could get 10 concurrent bleeps but no way of knowing which was the most urgent.

BT supplies the mobile devices and we manage them on behalf of the Trust. Central mobile device management means that if a smartphone goes missing, it is the work of a moment to remotely disable and wipe it clean. It also makes it easy to enforce strong security policies that protect data and users.

The public sector does not always move swiftly. But where there is a will, there is a way.

When Greater Manchester Police moved to its new, purpose-designed headquarters in November 2011, it took the opportunity to introduce more mobile working and accommodate1,100 administrative and support staff in a building with space for 500 desks. With help from BT, it did this in an astonishing time scale, achieving in just four months what conventionally might take years. As a result, the force is on its way to reducing its office estate by 30 per cent and reducing operational costs in line with government spending requirements.

It's about more than just money

Critics might claim that buying smartphones for social workers and nurses in an age of austerity is wrong. Get them to do the arithmetic: two extra productive hours per employee, per day plus financial savings from less travel and paperwork (one local authority told us mobility is saving it £5,300 per annum per social worker).

Remind critics that the public sector is also charged with improving quality of service. In the words of one ward sister in Nottingham: "I glanced at my screen and I could see immediately that there were three patients who had all escalated within 15 minutes of each other. I'd have been oblivious to that before."

On your marks

The public sector is in danger of being left behind when it comes to exploiting mobile technology. This is disappointing, because all the evidence suggests that mobility can both help meet the dual challenge of cutting costs and improving services.

Where to start? First, create a sound business case. There is plenty of quantitative and qualitative data to draw on. Second, involve your users - those at the sharp end are best placed to shape mobile services. (Not engaging with them is almost a guarantee of failure.) Third, don't just adapt your paper processes but grasp the opportunity to model afresh how you do things. Fourth, make a start now.

Finally, remember that perhaps the best thing about mobile technology is that it's already an everyday experience for many of us.It's no longer disruptive technology but constructive. We should make its popularity and ubiquity into an opportunity to remodel public services, to deliver higher quality at a lower cost, to find new ways of doing things that will deliver better outcomes for us all.

Ian Dalton is president, Global Government and Health at BT Global Services

We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.