Agencies in New South Wales have recently been put under the pump by the state government’s decision to tighten performance and governance requirements for ministerial correspondence.
With whole-of-government circular C2015-13 ‘enhanced ministerial correspondence handling’ mandating web-based correspondence, a maximum 30-day turnaround time and ongoing compliance monitoring, many agencies are finding their existing processes to be inadequate. This is just one example of a growing expectation for government agencies to increase efficiency within our digital economy.
This paradox of ‘doing more with less’ has long haunted the public service, which is continually tightening financial screws while persistently expecting more from those it employs.Responding to high-urgent requests is all in a day’s work for ministerial staff and agency executives, who must continually shuffle competing priorities to stay on top of fast-changing portfolio issues and enquiries.
These tasks are often triggered by news events or specific communication from a citizen or other stakeholder, which necessitate a rapid and comprehensive response.
Individual communications normally raise numerous issues – each often requiring inputs from multiple stakeholders and experts.
These inputs may be provided as structured or unstructured data; and they must also be requested, processed and then meaningfully integrated into developing responses. Those responses are vetted, checked for compliance with policy statements and objectives, potentially classified or redacted, and then presented to the minister for approval or revision before being finalised and sent.
Even at a most basic level, the impact upon an agency and its reputation from the responses it provides – not to mention the minister and government of the day – can be profound and widespread.
A typical department and its agencies receive dozens of enquiries per day – meaning that the 30-day deadline for response turnaround can easily result in ministerial staff juggling over 500 simultaneous responses at any given time.
Little wonder that senior executives who oversee ministerials are required to commit a considerable amount of their time to the demands of managing correspondence and requests for information.
Some agencies have turned to cloud-based productivity suites to enable multiple people to work on a request at the same time from any device. However, properly modelling the approvals process, and the information governance policies within those agencies, is far more complex than simply providing access to shared documents.
Access control levels, permissions, transparency and custody considerations all come into play.
A rising tide
Ensuring proper governance around ministerial requests introduces challenges of volume and speed that are compounded by ever-present pressure on governmental staff to do more with less, argues Stephen Duncan, product marketing manager with Objective, which has worked with many government agencies and departments to digitise their ministerial correspondence workflows.
“Being able to put ministerial correspondence through a governed process of authoring, reviewing, rectifying, and then final approval and dispatch is very much everyday business for the public sector,” Duncan explains. “It’s not always about volume, but often is about velocity and variety.”
“Staff may have to respond to a particular constituent on a number of different topics that are not necessarily core to that agency, so they have to reach out to others for input,” Duncan says, noting that pressure and pace is increasing.
“While they’re tasked with doing this job, they’re not necessarily provided with any additional resources to accomplish it.”
Governing ministerials through digitisation
This paradox of ‘doing more with less’ has long haunted the public service, which is continually tightening financial screws while persistently expecting more from those it employs.
Funding and resource limitations have sent many looking towards business process management (BPM) tools that model real-world business processes within software to increase specific requirement around their business issue, for instance, increase efficiency, quality, transparency and collaboration. (Read more about these elements in this executive brief, “Mastering Ministerials – A Key to Good Government”).
These requirements were prominently highlighted in research firm Gartner’s recent evaluation of BPM tools, which cited the importance of “their ability to orchestrate increasingly complex work styles”.
“We see this ability to address a wider variety of styles as increasingly important,” the research noted, “particularly in the context of digitalised processes (processes that coordinate the behaviours of people, processes and ‘things’/the Internet of Things [IoT]) — which require greater insight into context, are executed at an increasingly rapid pace, and span the virtual and physical worlds for both contextual insight and work execution.”
If this sounds like the typical ministerial correspondence cycle, you’re thinking along the right lines.
These systems match the call for more agile systems, using automated process engines to link people, places, and things, in ways that are relevant to the information task at hand.
That’s exactly how ministerial correspondence is prepared – yet the nuances of the process are often lost on general-use platforms that offer generic processes with little control, agility or accountability.
Gartner highlights key capabilities including interaction management, monitoring and business alignment, rules and decision management, analytics, interoperability, intelligent mobility, process discovery and optimisation and more.
Working with government agencies has seen Objective applying best-practice workflow capabilities to a range of existing processes.
These capabilities, Gartner notes, “shortens the time it takes from contextual insight to action. It speeds the delivery of a unique customer experience or response to inputs… using a highly intelligent process to respond in an optimal way to the unique context presented by business moments.”
Achieving ministerial excellence
Automation offers significant benefits for ministerial correspondence units in agencies facing pressure from top-down performance mandates like C2015-13. The NSW Department of Primary Industries has indicated that 69% of users report achieving targets for timely resolution of cases after implementing an automated ministerial system, while NSW Department of Premier & Cabinet reported an 86% reduction in the time to respond to ministerial enquiries.
“We have greater transparency across processes than we’ve ever had,” says David Schneider, chief information officer of the NSW Department of Premier & Cabinet, which recently adopted Objective’s solution to improve its ministerials process and reported benefits including an 80% reduction in printing of briefs, instant access to content and the management of 95% of all information digitally.
“Bottlenecks are quickly identified and removed,” Schneider continues, noting that turnaround times in some approval processes have been cut from 10 days to just 2. “We’re injecting a newfound agility into our operations.”
For agencies that are already using information management platforms like HPE Content Manager, adopting a best practice solution for ministerials offers the necessary process governance layer that delivers the efficiency gains of an optimised ministerial process – without having to replace or overhaul their existing information system. (Click here for more information on leveraging existing HPE Content Manager systems whilst improving your ministerial processes).
Central to this is the provision of a purpose-built user interface that enables executives and staff to efficiently manage their tasks and approvals. Readily accessible via mobile technology, this interface enables staff to access and share relevant information from their information governance system with ease.
“Regulated industries and public sector operators need to ensure that diligence and governance are in place at all times, but not at the expense of quality outcomes which can be at odds with overheads implemented by information management systems,” Duncan explains.
Keeping quality high
For excellence in ministerials to be achieved, agencies must look for ways to increase efficiency by enabling staff to more effectively manage their work with confidence.
Concurrently, they must ensure quality standards are adhered to by providing access to relevant information. This includes providing secure cross-agency collaboration and finally increasing visibility and transparency for executives so they are confident the agency is on track and can meet KPIs.
Forward-thinking agencies will use the C2015-13 parameters as a trigger to improve their processes, and position those improvements as a core part of their value proposition for the people they serve.
With a broadly accessible collaboration platform, well-integrated information flows and back-end process governance, agencies can transform ministerial correspondence into a robust, responsive tool for better citizen engagement.