Why poor document collaboration is costing Whitehall £500m a year

Nearly £500 million a year is being wasted “reinventing the wheel” by repeating past research and reworking policy plans.

The success of any team hinges on two factors – expertise and efficiency. While these appear to be distinct goals, they essentially rely on the same solitary skill; effective collaboration.  

A government analysis, as reported by The Times last month, found that nearly £500 million a year is being wasted “reinventing the wheel” by repeating past research and reworking policy plans – many of which had already been dismissed as unworkable by a predecessor.

The problem, the analysis concludes, is that fragmented IT systems make much of the information held by departments (up to 100 terabytes of data in many cases) inaccessible to staff. This makes it almost impossible for civil servants to access and consider their peers’ learnings from previous policy work before developing new material. 

Whitehall’s institutional memory is at risk

It’s not that information is lost altogether. Rather, Whitehall’s “institutional memory” has been compromised. Decades of poor digital record keeping has resulted in vast amounts of information and knowledge, contained within documents, being scattered across multiple systems. Without a single, shared digital workspace to exchange documents and expertise between departments, employees typically resort to email attachments. This confines information to individual inboxes, making it inaccessible to the wider organisation.

The fragmented IT systems in use by Whitehall also mean that sharing information between departments effectively must be done outside of the permitted processes and therefore the “firewall”. This a dangerous game to play, especially for government departments who regularly share and collaborate internally and externally on sensitive files. 

This is a challenge that we are all too aware of. In 2015, Dods Research, commissioned by Huddle, mapped the attitudes of 5,000 public sector employees towards cloud computing, data security and relevant digital government initiatives (such as G-Cloud). The research found that while 95 per cent of public sector workers work on information with external organisations, 43 per cent of central government respondents admitted to still relying on physical post to share documents. In local government, this rose to a staggering 48 per cent - nearly half of those surveyed, creating massive inefficiency, not to mention accruing huge costs.   

In fact, it’s not just central government and public sector that’s suffering with knowledge silos. Findings from our 2016 survey of 200 U.S. and UK accounting, advisory and management consulting firms, revealed that inefficient information-sharing and poor document management is costing firms their ability win, service and retain business. To put it into context, firms were spending nearly $5,000 of billable time every month searching for documents.

The solution already exists

This problem shouldn’t exist. The government has long promoted the idea of multi-agency collaboration and information sharing, and has gone so far as to create a digital marketplace (G-Cloud) to supply teams with new technologies for collaboration and communication. In fact, the UK government even made headlines for promising to make itself “paperless” by 2018. 

Much of this £500m waste could be saved by using cloud-based collaboration technologies, like Huddle, Slack and Yammer. By putting cloud-based collaboration tools in-place, documents become accessible, structured and searchable – with staff able to quickly build secure team spaces for peers who exist both inside and outside of the firewall. What’s more, it’s infinitely safer than email or sharing documents via the post. Audit trails become visible and transparent, allowing users to review document access, views and downloads and comment. 

Indeed, some government departments have already put cloud-based collaboration technologies into practice and are benefiting from their assistance. For example, Croydon Council acknowledged that they needed to work better with existing third-party contractors and improve on-boarding of new partners, all while maintaining an effective system and privacy control. The catalyst for change was an Ofsted inspection which required Croydon Council to provide them with access to sensitive network files and respond to their requests quickly. Through deploying Huddle as their cloud collaboration technology, Croydon Council was able to ensure that all data shared with Ofsted remained protected and in Croydon Council’s control - something previously unachievable. This has also helped Croydon Council’s 300 staff better collaborate with their other third-party contractors and local authorities in the area.

And Croydon Council aren’t alone. Through using Huddle’s collaboration platform as a space where stakeholders could review, edit and approve documents, The Ministry of Justice has saved £100,000 annually and made the most of the knowledge and expertise within its teams. 

The point is, while a solution already exists, it remains up to the government departments and their IT teams to ensure the correct tools are made available, else risk more Whitehall-esque headlines. While G-Cloud has helped this substantially by making these tools available to all, it’s clear that re-education of the goals of the framework and wider organisation may be necessary.

Tamas Kramer, Head of Public Sector, EMEA, Huddle
Image Credit: Have a nice day Photo / Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tamas is Huddle’s Head of Public Sector for EMEA. Over the last 18 years, Tamas has worked for some of the world’s largest enterprise IT companies including IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. He holds a degree in business administration from GWU and Econovum.