The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched the capacity of many public sector organizations to respond to sudden demands. Even before the current crisis, there was no shortage of priorities to address. In the ever-present reality of low budget and ongoing talent shortages, figuring out how to rapidly deliver innovation at scale has long been a challenge. Now it's an imperative.
IT has a critically important role to play at this time in co-ordinating quick-win projects to achieve rapid results. This is not the right moment to embark on massive system upgrades. Instead the emphasis must be on adding modern digital service offerings that can quickly automate self-service processes, preferably for secure access from remote or mobile devices.
Working with customers in local and national government, military and other organizations, we have seen many different pain points and priorities. What they all share, however, is a common need to rapidly develop and deploy solutions and processes that set the foundation for a strong digital future. In our experience, a combination of twin internal and external strategies can help unify processes, streamline IT projects and timelines, and drive the kind of efficiency to make a real difference.
Rapid development quickly delivers new applications
The internal strategy relies on adopting an easy-to-use, cost-effective and rapid development platform. This simplifies development by providing a common set of tools that take fewer resources to deliver innovative process automation, while API-based connections into the existing IT architecture ease system fragmentation. Here are two real-world examples from Neptune's customer base.
At Forsvaret (the Norwegian Armed Forces) this approach enabled the introduction of fifteen new applications in just seven months to optimize its logistic and handling processes for equipment. Delivering smart logistics to support their teams and help end users work more efficiently, these mobile and kiosk applications have cut the time taken to count warehouse stock by 80%, and done away with cumbersome pen and paper processes when issuing new kit to officers.
The French Gendarmerie wanted to create a modern mobile experience for its officers to access the organization's SAP Human Resources portal from newly issued smart phones. The project had to integrate seamlessly with the ABAP backend capabilities of the existing SAP infrastructure and leverage in-house developer capabilities. Delivering fast applications at a rapid pace was key.
The organization quickly rolled out the first of a core set of 25 applications focusing on personnel data management as well as time, leave, and travel management. A policy-based strategy was implemented to control access to applications, based on the exact needs and role of the user. Users and IT alike have appreciated the easy transition, says Major Jérémy Lauraire:
Asking developers to essentially move to a new job – learning web development – was huge for us. But with Neptune, there was only a small, easy-to-navigate learning curve. The platform was simple to use, it felt familiar to our ABAP-development team, and took a mere two days for training, which made developers happy … Our user base is enthusiastic about the new experience and all of the new functionality.
Self-service automation improves user experiences
The external strategy aims to give more control to citizens and users by providing simple-to-use digital tools. This improves transparency and reduces wait times through a self-service user experience that gives easy, direct and speedy access to results.
For example, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) digitized inventory management of its armory with a secure mobile app and RFID tags. By automating and streamlining its processes, NZDF increased data quality and eliminated manual operations that once took several hours, completing the same tasks digitally in just seconds.
The new applications were able to take advantage of NZDF's existing SAP setup to minimize the need for integration. A self-service employee portal built using Neptune Software's DX Platform is based in the AWS cloud. This provides authentication mechanisms to safely and securely connect mobile devices used in the field to the SAP back-end data. The mobile applications work both online and offline, so that soldiers have the flexibility to work in remote areas where Wi-Fi is not available or around aircraft where Wi-Fi is not permitted. Commercial RFID barcode scanners link to the mobile devices via Bluetooth.
Using this digital technology, an NZDF staff member armed with an RFID scanner can simply stand at the front of an armory storage aisle, a boat hatch or aircraft, and the system will automatically pick up every weapon or piece of equipment within scanner range that has an RFID tag. Staff completing stocktakes are no longer required to pull every piece of equipment out of racks and manually record or verify each serial item – the process has been largely automated. What previously would have taken two people around half a day is now completed in seconds, says Alan Rivers-Milliken, Logistics Information Manager:
With the RFID scanner in the same armory it takes about 40 seconds, which is the amount of time it takes them to walk down the racks…
Our people love the new solution. They've been blown away with how easy it is to now get a count on equipment.
The mobility solution has also resulted in fewer steps in the overall process of storing information, as there is no need to open up SAP ERP for data capture. Data accuracy and quality have significantly improved, serving to reduce risks associated with incorrect data. The paper trail has been done away with and valuable personnel can now be allocated to more pressing tasks.
The project hasn't required any work to adjust the backend or any major new infrastructure, plus the cost of the stocktake process hasn’t increased. The business benefit and return on investment has been almost instantaneous.