Opinion: It’s time for managed services to start delivering for users

Colin Bruce, Head of Managed Services at Made Tech shares his thoughts on the next generation of managed services and why user needs must inform every aspect of the service.

Managed services, as a means of outsourcing to reduce cost and improve the performance and support of live services, promises so much but, sadly, often fails to live up to expectations. The success of managed service contracts is traditionally measured by adherence to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and cost efficiency, but this fails to recognise the experience of the users of the service. Crucially it misses the opportunity to address how the service can continually evolve to improve the lives of the people that use it.

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Photo by Marius Masalar

The nature of a managed service contract will vary based on the needs and requirements of an organisation but generally has three key outcomes: cost saving, improved performance and improved service.

Traditional managed service providers (MSPs), have a wealth of knowledge and resources. Years of working in the public sector has given them an understanding of how to run a ‘successful’ managed service engagement. But the problem is, they’re not doing anything with the data they collect on the issues they find. While there may be an initial cost saving, performance rarely improves and the service, at least from the users’ perspective, rarely lives up to expectations.

Despite extensive use of managed services contracts in the public sector expenditure continues to rise. The government spent £2.3 billion supporting and maintaining live services in 2019 and it is forecast to spend £4.4bn per year by 2024 just to make sure existing services continue to operate. As more public services are transformed through digitisation the need to manage the costs of both service operations and service improvement become even more pressing.

Value through user-centredness

There simply must be a better, more efficient way of working that delivers real value. It’s time to shift the focus from tick box exercises and robotically adhering to SLAs and focus on the user experience. The next generation of managed services must be bespoke, tailored to the organisation and users that they serve. Services must continue to evolve to meet the shifting needs of a diverse population. The end user needs to be at the core of a data-led, user-centric, next generation managed service.

Designing digital services that people choose to use

Though many traditional MSPs provide efficient and timely support for the services they manage – and yes, some may even ask users for feedback – they’re missing a trick. It’s understanding people’s end-to-end experiences of using the services that will shine a spotlight on how we improve them. Does the service make people’s lives easier? Are they able to achieve their goals with the minimum of stress? Do the public sector users themselves feel supported? Is the service meeting its overall objectives?

Fortunately, there are already great examples that show a better way. How a young person applies for their provisional driving licence. How a military veteran accesses specialised health services. A parent getting help with rising living costs. Or a pensioner submitting evidence of their right to stay in the UK. Supporting and improving these crucial services whilst continually improving accessibility for people in the UK and beyond is what managed services should be about.

It all comes down to the users of the service. By involving them in the whole delivery, we gain insights into their behaviours, preferences and concerns. This is what helps us overhaul digital services so they’re intuitive, user-friendly and tailored to specific needs. Applying the same approach to managing the service once it is live is what sets a next generation managed service apart. We know that when people find a digital service easy to use, it meets their needs and – dare we say it – is a delightful experience, they’re much more likely to use it.

When using traditional MSPs, there’s precious-little thought given to user experience. Key performance indicators are often the ones they choose to report themselves. We believe that success should be defined by the people working with these services each and every day.

Relationships, truly engaging and actively listening to public sector staff is a differentiator for next generation managed services. User-centred MSPs have to be good at building and maintaining relationships with the front-line staff delivering the service. Regular contact, collaborative working styles and these truly user-centred approaches are how we work together to improve services. 

Services that evolve with society

If MSPs really want to help our public sector do what they do best – supporting the people and society that they serve – then the service that they provide has to be equally focussed on those users and built on the values of public service.

The definition of a good service is getting the user through the process as quickly and painlessly as possible – building digital alternatives that people actively choose to use. Being realistic, government services rarely, if ever, spark joy. Whether it’s difficult life events or mundane life admin, we should make those experiences as fast, effective and as stress-free as possible.

Next generation managed services means being truly user-centric. It means being committed to the continual improvement of the services being supported and caring about the users of those services. Through dedicated, small, high-performing teams that come equipped with expertise in the modernisation and management of critical public sector applications, managed services teams become agile, collaborative and user-centred.

Designing services that meet the emerging needs of a diverse population really matters. Managed services should not just be about outsourcing to reduce costs. It’s time to move away from the mindless adherence to SLAs and treat the next generation of managed services as an opportunity to continue transformation through an organic evolution of digital services.

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