posted 28 Mar 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 7
By Alison Saunders
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is responsible for the collection of some £4.9bn per year in road tax on behalf of the Treasury and helps ensure that the public is protected from untaxed and uninsured drivers. The DVLA has been responsible for managing the centralised vehicle and driver registry since the early 1970s, when individual local authority records were consolidated.
Since its inception, staff turnover has been low, but as a result, the organisation is now sitting on a ‘demographic time bomb’, with a significant proportion of staff looking forward to retirement within the next five years.
Devising an effective succession-planning strategy and ensuring the transfer of tacit knowledge and skills in this time is therefore a major pre-occupation of DVLA management.
Drawing on my own recent experience in trying to introduce a more collaborative mindset across the agency, this article assesses how far collaboration effectively influences corporate strategy within the DVLA, examines its enablers and barriers and the impact these might have on public engagement and operating efficiencies.
The need for change
Since becoming self-funding in 2004, there has been a sea-change in attitudes at the agency.
First, the DVLA has begun to recognise that although its ‘customers’ have little real choice but to use its services as part of their statutory obligation to register their vehicle, it should treat them as though they did have a choice, in the commercial sense. This mindset should improve the agency staff’s ability to empathise with customers, to appreciate and accommodate their needs – where operationally viable – and thereby improve customer satisfaction by making it easier for them to engage with the organisation and comply with their statutory obligations. Increased compliance will, in turn, help to cut operating and enforcement costs.
Second, the customer-facing departments within the DVLA are aware that poor compliance and adoption of services might be perceived as a competitive threat undermining the agency’s longer-term viability. Therefore, it should work more closely with its customers to attract and retain their compliance.
In fact, such approaches are beginning to take root across wider government. In 2004, when Sir Andrew Turnbull, then head of the UK’s civil service, embraced what he called “new ways of transacting business” with customers, he urged his colleagues to do likewise – to deliver, “better services… and better value for money for the taxpayers who pay our salaries”.
So-called joined-up government requires a more customer-focused mindset and closer links between government departments, improved processes and systems, and easier access to services for the public. Improving collaboration – both within the DVLA and with other agencies it has to work with on a regular basis – will help the DVLA to meet those goals.
Such sentiments are reflected by Charles Leadbeater, a government advisor and political commentator. He forecasts that, “government action will increasingly have to be collaborative, fast and custom made”. This suggests that as the external environment becomes more complex and dynamic, collaboration becomes correspondingly more important to organisational strategy, with shared information and customer intelligence across government departments and agencies becoming increasingly important.
The DVLA’s Strategic Agenda 2004-2010 acknowledges the rapid changes taking place. It highlights the need to capture knowledge from within the agency and from its partners, to embed a collaborative, knowledge-sharing culture and to measure the impact of this on the following strategic imperatives:
Reducing personal and economic loss from road accidents as part of improved road safety;
Reducing vehicle-related crime and supporting the reduction of other crime;
Reducing harm caused to the environment by vehicles;
Improving the public experience of government services.
To achieve these ambitious aims, the DVLA’s primary stakeholder is the general public, to whom it is accountable through government ministers in Parliament. Other key stakeholders include the Department for Transport as well as other parts of government, such as the Home Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Treasury. The need for robust collaborative processes and technology at the DVLA is therefore great.
The business imperative
In recent years, the public sector in the
For the DVLA, as with the government sector as a whole, developing a customer-orientated mindset has to be tempered by the recognition that its organisational strategy is always open to public and political scrutiny.
This does not preclude the sharing of knowledge and market intelligence between organisations. Rather, it requires greater collaboration to deliver more responsive public services. As greater value is placed on knowledge-sharing across government and other sectors, the silo mentality, which has until recently been so prevalent, should begin to break down.
The dissemination of market intelligence and customer understanding to influence strategic thinking can begin to assist those whose role is to deliver customer service to an increasingly high standard. For example, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has already invested significant resources in collaboration between its core business functions, sharing appropriate ‘customer’ intelligence with other government departments (within the constraints of the Data Protection Act).
As communication channels increase and diversify, so too do the opportunities for collaboration between the DVLA and its customers. This may increase the likelihood that the DVLA’s customers – both business and public – will demand more choice and more say in the way the organisation delivers its services. The agency proactively seeks customer involvement in the development of its services and documentation through focus groups, surveys and public consultations, the results of which it feels has had a real impact on raising customer confidence.
In any business – even a public sector organisation such as ours – collaboration between key functions and groups of experts can help identify sources of competitive threat, as well as disseminating market intelligence throughout an organisation in order to maintain competitive advantage consistent with the organisation’s goals.
Staff in the DVLA’s 40 local offices around the
The hope is that this will help the business to understand why, for example, there remains a significant variation in the evasion of car tax across different parts of the country.
Navigating outside the silo
In recent years, the DVLA has initiated a number of overseas collaborations, particularly among European governments to help deal with identity fraud, vehicle crime and road-charging interoperability. However, the agency seems less open to internal collaborative initiatives. Endemic resistance to change and a perceived lack of accountability means that the dissemination of market intelligence is often not as good as it should be in the DVLA.
Collaboration not only builds an organisation’s capabilities, but in so doing builds the competencies of employees and, in turn, their morale and productivity. A collaborative mindset across areas of the business responsible for IT, budgets, service delivery and staffing can empower staff to work together better in the interests of the customer.
The main barrier to collaboration in the DVLA, however, appears to be its hierarchical nature and culture, which can often impede communication and cross-functional working. In a bid to overcome this, we have set-up expert communities, discussion groups and virtual communities at different levels within the organisation. One example of the way in which such collaboration can help is in the Media Relations Group. It has created a support network for all staff involved in external communications and public relations. This is a surprisingly large community, but by being brought together in this way, members can now appreciate the duplication of effort – and consequent dilution of resources – that often takes place. This is a valuable first step that helps staff first to understand the importance of collaboration and then to embrace it.
The network helps media relations staff to anticipate how marketing communications in one part of the organisation might impact on others, such as forecasting customer demand and staffing numbers, call volumes, operational targets and public perception. It also encourages staff to base campaigns on previous research into customer attitudes, improving their potential impact.
The agency has established a range of measures which can be looked at holistically to get a more robust and objective view of its customer service performance and effectiveness, including customer and staff satisfaction surveys.
Collaboration with customers in the design and improvement of policies and services requires wide sharing of customer and ‘stakeholder’ intelligence across the various external-facing areas of the business. There is an imperative within DVLA to establish a culture where knowledge sharing is routine.
Through developing its balanced scorecard methodology, the agency seeks to ensure that it has the necessary processes, culture and technology to enable its knowledge to be shared effectively within and beyond its boundaries. A weekly customer service ‘tracker’ report for the executive board supports the wider knowledge-sharing practices in the agency, with the emphasis on measuring internal effectiveness against both external and internal targets, and on customer orientation, giving a high-level view of customer experience.
This mechanism also identifies any cause and effect relationships between the various customer-facing business areas. For example, if management information is identifying certain performance issues in one area of the business, such as response times to customer queries, this can signal an increased demand in another area, such as the call centre or local offices. It is also useful in assessing the impact of the DVLA’s customer service quality on its reputation and operating costs. By empowering front-line decision making, collaboration in reporting performance gives us a clearer picture of where in the delivery chain problems are occurring and reoccurring.
Thus, tracker reporting provides DVLA staff with a shared understanding of customer needs and forces management information to become more meaningful and accountable.
A co-ordinated approach
Effective collaboration in the DVLA is dependent on the answer to a couple of key questions. First, do we have an appropriate culture? This depends on having critical mass among the agency’s staff who will commit to and engage with the longer-term corporate vision, mission and values to deliver continuously improving and more efficient services through greater autonomy and flexibility whilst providing a greater level of transparency and confidence to our customers and stakeholders.
Second, have we got the right IT support systems, tools and infrastructure? Moving the agency towards an electronic document and records management system (EDRM) can deliver savings in the time it takes to store, reference, search for and retrieve all forms of electronic documents, and to support the agency in meeting the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Once EDRM has been implemented later this year, collaborative tools can be introduced that will circumvent some of the cultural barriers to collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Over the next two to three years, DVLA will be introducing collaborative processes and technologies that will increase its knowledge sharing capabilities on two levels, tacit and explicit.
Enablers of collaborative working Relocations and closer working with the other agencies serving the Department for Transport have facilitated the sharing of information and customer intelligence. The first co-located DVLA/Driving Standards Agency (DSA) site was set up in 2005 in Borehamwood,
The DVLA’s IT infrastructure improvement programme will help the agency to rationalise and simplify its existing electronic communication channels with customers and partners.
In order to work more effectively with key corporate customers and stakeholders, stakeholder account managers have been appointed as a means of establishing consistency and sharing best practice in service delivery. Closer working with the police and other enforcement agencies has led to increased security and improvements to the accuracy of public records, data sharing within the confines of the Data Protection Act and has helped create a single joined-up customer database.
With regard to staff collaboration, the Learning Network is a live intranet-based discussion forum which enables and encourages all staff across the agency to share best practice, lessons learnt and to ask ‘how do I?’ questions in an open and spontaneous manner, thereby reducing duplication of effort and silo working. The Learning Network also provides a useful barometer of staff attitudes and hot topics.
For corporate strategy to be truly customer-led, it should draw on and reflect the intelligence gathered from internal and external sources. And, upon closer examination, a clear, indisputable link can be seen between collaboration and corporate strategy.
Collaboration therefore underpins the whole process of ‘market sensing’, which includes market identification, marketing planning and product/service development. Collaboration allows the organisation to focus on those specific areas of its business most in need of improvement. In the case of the DVLA, this ought to improve compliance, the accuracy of the customer database and, of course, lead to an increased return on investment in marketing.
If collaboration is the intangible input into the corporate strategy, then the strategy itself is the tangible output that impacts most on the customer. The corporate strategy should therefore be the manifestation of all that we know about our customers and how we intend to serve them. Collaboration is the means by which we capture that knowledge.
This article has attempted to assess whether collaboration within the DVLA is dependent on being pushed by key people within the organisation with the appropriate insight and skills, or pulled by environmental influences, which might force the agency to embrace the concept of collaborative working as a matter of survival. Evidence suggests that unless the DVLA recognises the value of both influences it cannot understand and fully respond to changing customer demands.
It may be more palatable to the DVLA if the need for collaborative working were articulated in terms of customer service targets. Although this might be more appropriate to the culture of the agency, it will be no less challenging as increased emphasis is placed by stakeholders and customers upon service excellence and accountability. Therefore, the value of collaborative working at a strategic level should not be disregarded by DVLA in the longer term and the impact of the agency’s corporate strategy may depend on those staff with the greatest ability and willingness to collaborate and share knowledge routinely.
This article has been written at a critical time for the DVLA, with several new collaboration initiatives either in their infancy or at the design stage. Throughout 2006, these initiatives should make significant and quantifiable impact on the corporate strategy of the agency and demonstrate the value of collaboration both internally and externally. The learning and development gained from these initiatives should therefore create future case studies for dissemination across the knowledge management community.
Alison Saunders is knowledge manager for the DVLA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reference is made in this article to DVLA and its knowledge management activities. However, this article does not form part of the official viewpoint of the DVLA. Responsibility for the content remains with the author.
DVLA Business Plan 2005 – 06;
Letter to all Civil Servants, 19th July 2004. (Reference AO2004/942);
Charles Leadbeater, ‘The Networked State’ taken from Delivery, Transformation, Measurement: Essays on 21st Century Governance, edited by Stuart Rock and Jo Russell. IBM Publishing, 2003. (page 10).