The concept of the back office is changing. It traditionally involved repetitive and high-volume activities however, in today’s digital world, it is increasingly the quality of experiences that are shaping how back-office staff, users and citizens want to work, receive information, and interact.
Users are firmly at the centre of the digital back office which means organisations need to consider their user’s present, expected and aspirational ways of working such as harnessing automation to liberate staff to focus on more complex, value-adding and fulfilling tasks. In this way, back office personnel become business focused, delivering new value to customers and citizens. To enable this shift, organisations must not only look for ways to automate processes but also define new back-office roles, hire top talent and train and develop their people to support the business in a different way.
The way the shift is achieved looks different for all organisations because it requires transformation beyond approaches that target speed, productivity, and cost savings. An evolution is needed for the back office, which has three fundamental characteristics: digital from the core, data-driven, and people-centric.
1. Digital from the core
Digital solutions are critical to enabling the evolution of the back office, which is why investing in a good back-office solution is a game changer for public sector organisations. However, it is critical that an organisation does not simply jump on the latest digital fad. The back office touches all people within an organisation and therefore, needs to take into account the broader context of the people, the process and ultimately the culture, to drive transformation.
Many public sector organisations have begun exploring analytics and automation in the back office, often starting with developing prototypes and proof of concept and scaling those that show the most promise.. Although these initial investments are important, they are just the first wave of digital transformation for the new back office. It has been proven that a big bang approach is not always the most successful and can cause huge culture shocks within businesses meaning the desired effect of the updated back office is not achieved.
The second wave includes more cutting-edge digital solutions such as artificial intelligence and machine learning that will impact the back office operations at a foundational level.
One element at the heart of the traditional public sector back office is data. Human resources, procurement and finance have a wealth of data, however, the back office can find itself struggling to turn data into insights because of data access and quality issues or because advanced analytics skills are not widely available.
In contrast, the intelligent back office is data driven. Breakthrough insights can be formed from both structured and unstructured, internal and external data. Digital platforms make it possible to integrate and share this data in a secure environment either internally or externally designed for collaboration. These insights can benefit specific functional areas and departments, ultimately benefiting the users and the organisation as a whole.
In addition to the above, digital tools and analytics extract patterns more efficiently, another way in which the intelligent back office engages with data. Additionally, back office solutions, offer analysis and advice to the organisation enabling strategic decision making and wiser investment decisions. Back office staff are able to use their judgement and experience to make sense of it and make decisions based on the appropriate way forward for the organisation.
Recently there has been a drive for public sector organisations wanting to explore no-code/ low-code options. Using this approach to upgrade the digital back office removes the complexity of whole-systems replacement and benefits organisations that are equipped to quickly adapt and respond to fast-changing business conditions. Ultimately organisations require speed, productivity, and value for money, using a low/no-code transformation can give public sector organisations this and more.
3. People-centred experiences
The back office is not simply just about technology and processes, there is a critical human element. People across the public sector deliver services for the public and other organisations to consume. The better the public sector workforce are at doing this, the better the public sector organisations will be at meeting citizen and users’ needs. However, the focus on human needs is getting lost. Back office staff spend a good portion of their time on repetitive tasks that reduce their time on tasks that actually enhance the business. To a digital back office can automate tasks like these, to mitigate tedious, unchallenging, and ultimately unsatisfying jobs.
The digital back office is designed to reflect user journeys, factoring in present, expected and aspirational ways of working. Finance staff can benefit from this by using predictive analytics to forecast budgets based on peak demand. Human resource staff can benefit as business managers are able to see the best fitted candidates for the role they are hiring for, with key attributes and skills. Procurement staff benefit as their roles go from spending strategies and savings goals to powering business objectives.
4. Change comes in different forms
It is key to remember that every change journey is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a digital back office. There is an array of dependencies such as the organisations readiness, recourses, and appetite for change. Some organisations prioritise an individual area, beginning with very specific exploratory projects and scaling them across other functions achieving multiple successes across the organisation. Whereas other organisations take a more comprehensive approach from the start, this is like building a new office from scratch. It often begins with a clean sheet design, collecting data on requirements, skill sets, outcomes and revealing the desired future state.
It is impossible to create a value engine without knowing the desired outcomes and return on investment. Therefore, from the outset, every organisation should direct the transformation with a value-oriented mindset, leaders must know how they will measure success and what they want out of the transformation.
FifthQuadrant guides public sector organisations along this journey with a flexible approach that combines business insights, experience, and innovative solutions. We build a more connected back office that operates as a true value engine—in ways it never did before.