Going above and beyond: how can the private sector meet more than just a contract?

Meeting the brief is the bare minimum the public sector can do for citizens. At Capita, long-term problems are solved by applying the full might of technology and expertise

In Britain, you can never predict the weather, but that is exactly your job if you are
responsible for gritting icy roads to make them safe in freezing temperatures. But each time Norfolk County Council gritted the most treacherous parts of its 6,200 miles of networks and bus routes, it would cost over £25,000 of public money and sometimes, temperatures wouldn’t plummet, leaving unused grit on the asphalt. However, not gritting the roads could result in serious injury or even death. 

The council needed a fix for this problem; a system which let the road itself say when it needed gritting. Capita provided the council with IoT sensors, that were then installed in key parts of each road that would inform the council of roadside temperatures. 

“I haven’t seen a partnership working this effectively ever,” says Kurt Frary, assistant director of ICT & chief technical officer at Norfolk County Council. “We spend £3.4m on gritting runs every year to keep the roads safe. These are low-cost IoT sensors, but they help us grit when we need to grit and not grit when we don’t need to grit, which saves £8,000 per grit run.” 

The public sector can achieve so much more than overcoming the British weather, says Andy Start, CEO of Capita Public Service. “We need to recalibrate public expectations of suppliers providing their services, not just meeting a brief, but solving the need for it in the first place,” says Start. “Capita is helping the public sector move from older models of simple contract delivery and provide holistic solutions to real world problems. Post-pandemic, the models of the past are often not fit for the future. These models need to help accelerate levelling up, overcoming Covid and achieving net zero.”

In many cases, the public need is served by infrastructure that wasn’t enabled for large-scale home working. Capita partnered with the think tank Demos to study what citizens wanted from their post-pandemic public sector. ‘The Social State’ report found an overwhelming majority wanted to get to know the people who provide their local services (71%) as well as knowing other services users better too (64%).

Opening up and leveraging data and technology can help organisations see broad solutions, says Start: “The public sector can see immediately when someone misses a council tax payment. But what else can that tell us? We know, with human behaviour, that if you cannot afford to pay your bills, the first one missed is council tax. We can see this person may be struggling with other bills or issues too, allowing us to get ahead of the curve and help people and companies at the same time.”

Helping customers in a flood of calls

When improving a public service call centre, the focus can often fall entirely on hiring more staff, installing more phone lines or increased online automation. At the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), Capita was employed to ensure the smooth running of an organisation tasked with solving a dizzying array of calls.

Capita’s response was a programme called Accelerate, a product which uses natural language processing to analyse the dialogue of customers’ emails, calls and texts as well as in printed documentation to solve issues more quickly. By accelerating the process and improving accuracy, Capita’s solution shortens waiting periods meaning decisions can be made more quickly.

We need to recalibrate public expectations of service, not just meeting a brief, but solving the need for the brief in the fi rst place

This analysis of language also empowered the fight against crime. Previously, some call details could be lost in the rush to deliver service to customers. But now, with the help of AI, correspondence could be analysed to help piece together instances of fraud by large companies. This enabled the FSCS to spot instances of ‘phoenixing’ – when individuals from financial services firms go out of business, but later reappear in connection with other
claims – and therefore help secure convictions and prevent future frauds from occurring.

“By harnessing a unique combination of software, digital transformation skills and talented people we can help government deliver better people-centric services,” says Start.

Opening up better outcomes

The key to successful social services is to remove the gaps through which vital information can be missed. The Scottish Wide Area Network (Swan) is one of the most significant single public sector ICT initiatives undertaken in Scotland, creating a single shared network and common ICT infrastructure across Scotland’s entire public sector. 

By linking 6,000 sites across Scotland, including over half of all local authorities, 100% of hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacists, and 90% of schools, Swan provides seamless but responsible data-sharing across multiple services. Since its launch in 2014, Swan is bringing reduced costs, improved service and the ability to share data across organisations, fostering co-operative working. 

“Swan has the unrivalled ability to deliver a vital element of Scotland’s critical national infrastructure for secure, everyday data sharing as well as the use of wider technologies such as 5G and IoT enabling the delivery of citizen and patient services that save time and money across the country” says Start. “The growing deployment of IoT sensors can also provide better and more accurate data on factors including water levels, air quality, footfall analysis and additional analytics for future health and social care services.” 

The service continues to have a positive impact on those who provide our public services; when last asked, 98% of user responses said Swan was “beneficial to their organisation.”

Helping the public sector maximise the value of the public purse

If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s the importance of being able to stand up new grant schemes quickly and to ramp up the delivery of existing schemes to disburse funds. In the early stages of the pandemic alone, Capita administered £750m of business grants for over 13 public sector clients as a direct result of Covid. It is now drawing on this experience to deliver digital grant management – through its software platform, Grantis – to digitise and fully automate the grant administration process.

It is far more intuitive for applicants who can check their eligibility and see exactly where their application is in the process. Not only will this support more successful eligible applications – getting entitlements to people quicker – it reduced instances of fraud, ultimately maximising the value of the public purse. 

Contracts around the world are frequently measured on outputs and – while this serves its function – it means that long-term solutions are not considered, says Start. “When we think in terms of outcomes, rather than reactively managing symptoms, it is better for all parties. By shifting our perspective to seeing outputs as stepping-stones on our journey to delivering better outcomes, we are able to work more holistically, allowing ourselves to take a step back and view the results of our efforts as a whole.” 

By continually embracing new ways to unlock data, technologies and ways of working, the public sector can uncover new ways to tackle historically difficult challenges.

For more information please visit capita.com

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