Digital transformation: The journey goes on

Much of the talk at Salesforce World Tour London was about AI. For delegates from the public sector, the foundational issue is the power of a low-code citizen engagement platform to enhance service delivery, as Tim Gibson reports

At the start of the government’s digital transformation journey more than a decade ago, would-be suppliers needed translators. These people articulated what companies like Salesforce were achieving in the commercial sector, then showed public sector buyers how similar tech could enhance service delivery.  

As the recent Salesforce World Tour London demonstrated, such translators are now just as likely to be found inside government as among the supplier community. Salesforce calls them “Trailblazers”: people who have understood what cloud-based data storage can achieve in driving efficiency and quality and are keen to share their story with others. 

This was the tenor of much of the public-sector-specific content at the Salesforce World Tour London. The overarching event theme was Artificial Intelligence, with keynotes on topics such as the AI “trust gap” and the ethics of the technology. But the public sector audience focused on a more foundational issue: the benefit of leveraging cloud-based data in the provision of public services. 

Better customer experiences, lower operating costs & a faster pace of transformation 

This theme was picked up by James Lee-Smith, head of UKI public sector strategy and business development for Salesforce. He acknowledged the pressures that government face with rising customer expectations of digital experiences, financial constraint due to recent shocks to our economy (Brexit, Covid, rising energy costs and interest rates) and the constraints of high technical debt due to the sheer vastness of its legacy infrastructure. But he was quick to point out the benefits of embracing low-code cloud-based citizen engagement software in enhancing public services.  

“Our customers report that Salesforce delivers on average operational cost savings of 27 per cent and yield ROI after nine months,” he said. “Our technology also drives an uptick in customer satisfaction on average by 32 per cent.” 

Reduced costs, improved transformational pace and elevated customer satisfaction. This sounds like the holy grail to most public service leaders, and Lee-Smith asserted that adopting generative AI will make these outcomes better than ever. If that is to happen, government will need the support of trusted platforms like Salesforce that have started to democratise the efficiency potential of generative AI for its customers in a responsible and well-governed way. It needs the appropriate controls to ensure that service agents are augmented in their work, not replaced, and retain responsibility for the content produced.  

Alongside that activity, Lee-Smith said the company would continue to work with government departments to demonstrate the power of cloud-based technology more generally. To that end, Salesforce has entered into an MoU with Crown Commercial Service that includes government-wide commercial terms and skills training. It also includes “proof of concept” engagements to help show how common patterns for customer engagement can be leveraged in public service transformation. In doing so, this help educate the transformation business case, best practice approach to successful delivery and helps guide effective public procurement. 

Stories from the front line 

The case is strengthened by stories of service transformation from across the public sector: stories told eloquently by Salesforce’s team and public sector “Trailblazers” at the World Tour London.  

Take the insights from NHS Professionals as an example. This organisation operates the largest staff bank in the NHS, with more than 100,000 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) workers on its books. By adopting a cloud-based CRM solution from Salesforce, CEO Nicola McQueen explained that it has transformed its processes. As a result, temporary staff can accept shifts more quickly and easily, with less time spent on administering the system and more time given to delivering care on the front line.  

The transformation has been significant for NHS Professionals, and McQueen said the organisation adopted a “go slow to go fast” mentality that is now paying dividends. “We committed to transforming the organisation and everyone has collaborated on that,” she said. “We now have a single view of all our data, [making our processes] faster, simpler and much smarter.”  

A similar picture emerged from other presentations, including by one official who said Salesforce’s standardised platform with in-built “security by design” was a crucial factor in choosing it. His agency has a high-security threshold and felt Salesforce’s cloud-first solutions gave his tech team the right basis on which to customise for their own purposes.  

The utility of configuration rather than building from scratch was a key theme in many of the case studies. Its benefit was signposted by Karl Hoods, chief digital and information officer in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. As CDIO in BEIS prior to the machinery of government changes, he and his team were charged with delivering elements of the Energy Support Schemes at pace between December 2022 and February 2023. Using Salesforce’s platform as a base, they were able to design and build a solution within mere weeks – a contrast to the usual lengthy timescales to which services are launched. 

Moreover, Hoods said his team developed speedy adaptations to the schemes even after launch, in one case in response to an undertaking made by a minister in the media. As well as accelerating the pace of change, use of the Salesforce platform ensured security and scalability, made it easier to identify fraud, and delivered value for money.  

Realising the benefit 

Cost is a major factor for any organisation delivering public services, especially if they operate on a commercial footing. It was a key driver for Northern Trains, whose customer and commercial director Mark Powles spoke about the value of Salesforce in helping the UK’s second-largest rail franchise recover post-Covid.  

Salesforce’s low code CRM platform has provided a cost-effective way of enhancing the impact of Northern Trains’ customer relationships, Powles reported. He said it has yielded a 30 per cent return on investment on marketing spend, by facilitating targeted communications. The technology has also increased agent productivity by 25 per cent and reduced onboarding time by 50 per cent.  

The same can be said of several organisations featured at the World Tour, including regional police forces (Humberside, Merseyside, Thames Valley and Hampshire) and Protas, the clinical trials non-profit. In both examples, the enriched experience of the end user is a crucial factor in adopting Salesforce’s technology.  

For the police forces, the platform enables victims of crime to receive better and more timely information about their cases. At a national scale, one in five calls to police call centres is from victims seeking updates on their cases. That equates to 20m calls per year and £250m of spend. By giving victims up-to-date information through an easily accessed portal, this commitment of time and money is being reduced. 

For Protas, Salesforce delivers a better experience for trials participants. This reduces the barriers to entry, helping reverse the 44 per cent drop in participant numbers since Covid, and ensures more effective interactions throughout the trial.  

For the police and Protas alike, secure data storage also makes life easier for staff, giving them ready access to information that can be shared securely, and is richer in quality, so yields better insights for business planning.  

The future 

It is little wonder Crown Commercial Service has embraced digitisation with enthusiasm, as commercial director and chief procurement officer for technology Dr Philip Orumwense made plain. Last year, it directed 27 per cent of £20.3bn spent on technology in the public sector (£9.3bn in central government), delivering a commercial benefit of £1.7bn.  

The National Data Strategy sets out the priorities for the years ahead, and AI will clearly play an ever-more important role in its execution. That lies behind the MoU with Salesforce, which reflects both the significance of this emerging technology to public service transformation and the success of the programme so far.  

The argument for digitisation has been won, with advocates across government keen to share their experiences. Now, the whole public sector can blaze the trail to an even brighter future of efficient, high-quality and cost-effective services.   

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