Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-297)|
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
280. I wanted to focus on the IT stuff you talked
about. If the IT were better would staff have more time to do
things? Do you think it would deliver, because often IT does not?
(Mr Kelleher) Let me give you an example. The information
system we use in call centres variants, if you want to adjust
a field of a database record you have to begin the entire record
again. Another example of the same system, personal advisers,
a client coming in the door, ringing up the call centre and saying,
"could you enter in this particular record because I am just
about to see the client in five minutes' time". There were
huge difficulties caused by the IT system. The situation with
IT is about being in a hole and stop digging, it is not about
great promises of what IT can do for you, it is about stop doing
things which are clearly unproductive and inefficient. It does
not seem to us that the IT challenge in the process is enormous.
It does seem to us that anything more than a well designed Oracle
database would be sufficient to support this IT process. I know
there are huge challenges in integrating the main IT system between
the merged agencies and there are plans afoot to do that, but
my own personal opinion would be that there is a case for looking
at the IT provision and asking the question as to whether starting
again and designing fresh IT systems round a fresh organisation
and Jobcentre Plus would not, at the end of the day, be quicker
and cheaper than trying to incrementally adjust existing IT systems
which were simply never designed for these purposes.
281. You talked about local initiatives and
you gave a graphic way of looking at it, of managers in various
projects sitting round waiting for central direction and not getting
it, and the more energetic of them started innovating and sorting
them out, and it is laudable. Has there been enough of those local
initiatives on the IT front to start putting together a central
model to which you refer?
(Mr Kelleher) The IT is not susceptible to local initiatives.
Some work was done on piloting on electronic integrated claim
forms. The difficulty is that the labour market system in the
Employment Service, which controls the flow of the records, is
a national system and the solution has to be a national solution
because it is actually about how you establish a unique record
for each client in the system and how you track them through each
meeting, each event, each network, et cetera. I very much acknowledge
your point that IT promises a lot and delivers very little, but
you are talking about whole systems, about document management
systems, communication systems, database systems. It is fairly
all or nothing. What I would say to you is that we do not know
of any insurance companies, for example, that do not have such
dedicated systems. It is simply very difficult to envisage how
such a large processing system can work if the IT is not adequate.
282. You have anticipated what I was going to
ask you, it is a logical development of what we were talking about,
do you think that Jobcentre Plus as currently envisaged can work
until, as you put it, building up from the ground IT is brought
in, or is that going to be a major Achilles heel to Jobcentre
Plus if the IT is not right?
(Mr Kelleher) I would say that it can certainly work
because the system under ONE, the system under jobseekers allowance,
etc, has worked, but it seems to me that there are huge productivity
gains to be made by introducing new IT systems.
283. I realise you may not be a computer person,
how long do you think that would take, you referred to an Oracle
system, for example?
(Mr Kelleher) Can I ask another question?
284. Please answer the question I should have
(Mr Kelleher) I think the question is, what would
it take? I suspect what it would take would be seriously beefing-up
the internal capacity of Jobcentre Plus in the Department to source,
design and run IT systems. The difficulty is, in a process-based
business like this, IT is an absolutely core function and there
are very serious difficulties with contracting out core functions.
The level of expertise that is needed internally to make this
work is the critical thing. If we are to see further problems
with overruns and time, budgets, etc, the critical factor is probably
the internal capacity.
285. Are you suggesting that the in-house capacity
for the Department at the moment is not sufficient?
(Mr Kelleher) I think if you spoke to the Department
they would suggest to you that it is not enormous.
Rob Marris: Thank you.
286. I am struck by that last bit, because I
sat beside somebody in a call centre a week ago and their IT was
streets ahead of anything I have never seen before in any government
benefits agency office.
(Mr Kelleher) It is all relative.
287. That is something we will want to look
(Mr Kelleher) If I can give a more serious answer,
I think unless they introduce a entirely new systemif you
thought that was impressive, if you look at the document handling
system that the local authorities use, that is so far advanced.
288. I have never had local authorities used
as a model for anything either.
(Mr Kelleher) It was a surprise to me too.
289. That is important. You have given us a
lot to think about.
Rob Marris: Can you say which local authorities
have these great document handling systems?
290. Name names?
(Mr Kelleher) Many local authorities are using paperless
document handling systems so that every piece of paper, every
item of information, every form, electronic and everything, is
associated with a single client record, so that when anything
has to be done you can call up on the screen anything that has
ever been done with that client. By comparison, in the ONE offices
12 personal advisers would have access to a single PC, they have
no standard templates or forms for letters, they have to go somewhere
else to write every letter, to make every communication, often
they did not have electronic mail and they could not send an e-mail
to somebody in the local authority saying, "what is happening
with the Joe Bloggs claim?" The local authorities found this
very difficult to live with.
291. I was not being ironic or sarcastic, can
you name the local authorities in case we might want to look at
(Mr Kelleher) I understand you are going to Bucks
next, is that right?
292. That was last week. We have in the past
visited Lewisham and the Lewisham set up was quite impressive.
(Mr Kelleher) I would certainly suggest that you talk
to the people in Buckinghamshire, I have had lengthy discussions
with their IT people there and my impression was they had their
Ms Buck: Westminster has achieved a largely
paperless office by losing all of the correspondence, I do not
think that is the idea.
293. We will not go into that. I am not going
to ask any of the predictable questions at the end, so you can
relax about that. I notice on page four of your evidence you did
make reference to deferral rates. When we were in High Wycombe
last week there was something like 27 per cent deferral ratewhat
deferral rate do you need before it ceases to become mandatorythere
may be very good reasons for that. If you have a mandatory system
you are going into sanctions, waivers as the Americans call them,
and they can be quite positive things if they are deployed sensitively.
Is this something that we should worry about, deferral rates of
27 per cent?
(Ms Youll) That sounds high. I do not think they were
formal targets. The expected level was about 15 per cent, so 27
per cent sounds high.
(Mr Kelleher) At the time we wrote the interim report
we were concerned there were not a sufficient number of deferrals
taking place. We felt people were being pushed through to personal
adviser meetings, only for the PA to say they clearly should not
be there, please go away. It may be we have been too influential
and things have now swung to the other extreme.
294. It is obviously a very important detail.
(Mr Kelleher) We certainly did not observe any levels
of deferrals at anything like that level in our field work.
(Ms Youll) I do not know whether behind that might
be an issue about an increased level of case loading, so you might
say, "We will defer for now, let's make an appointment for
a fortnight's time."
295. So it could be a consequence of overloading?
(Ms Youll) And wanting to follow up things, saying,
"We will leave it for now because you are clearly in a state,
but we will come back."
(Mr Stern) One of the things we were very concerned
with was when we took our time slices and were checking for consistency
across different sources of data, and it is often possible to
visit a particular office at a particular point in time and there
may be seasonal factors or some recent management push and you
may not get an overall profile because it has not been followed
through in that time period, so my advice would be not to be too
worried about a particular response in a particular office, but
I would be worried if the same response was coming from everywhere.
296. You said at the beginning this was interim
work but it will be tidied up and completed. Is it safe for us
to rely on the information you have given here during the gestation
of the written report, or would it be better for us to try and
make arrangements with you to get the completed article before
we rely on it?
(Mr Stern) I think it would be much better for you
297. But that will not take long?
(Ms Youll) It is under my hand here!
Chairman: That is fine. That was fascinating
and very instructive, and we are very grateful to you. Thank you
very much for your appearance.