Thursday, March 5, 2009

Process, process, process

There are processes that work well, and make life easier; and there are processes which barely work, and make life a misery for all and sundry.

The process for registering a car in NSW is an example of a process that works quite well - the RTA has put a lot of effort into making the process as effortless as possible for the motorist - they want to make it as easy as possible for you to give them money in return for a registration sticker.

If your car is over 5 years old, you take it to a mechanic for a safety check.  The mechanic logs the results of the safety check into the RTA system over the internet.  You then take out 3rd party insurance via the insurer of your choice, which can also be done over the internet - and the insurer sends your details to the RTA electronically within the hour.

You then visit the RTA website and pay the registration fee, and that it is - your car is now registered.  It's expensive, but it is hassle-free.  The system handles millions of registration transactions per year.

The system that our council has for graffiti reporting and management is also pretty good.  It's easy to register an item of graffiti on line.  The system emails you the job number, so you can track progress on line if you want to.  I don't know how the system manages dispatching council staff to cleanup jobs, but when they attend to a site, they photograph it before doing anything and upload the photos to the system.  

I understand that the graffiti system is then interfaced somehow with the Police, so every organisation that is using it is automatically adding to a state-wide database of graffiti tags.  When a vandal is caught, if the system is used properly, the Police should be able to charge them with multiple offences, not just the one that they were caught doing red-handed.  It helps to sort the first-time taggers from the serial pests.

The system isn't perfect.  It doesn't email you when the job has been actioned (ie, the graffiti has been removed).  It would be nice to get some feedback that something has been done about it, rather than living in hope that someone has taken action.  But it seems to work, and work well, and I can live with what we've got.

Not all council processes are as good as this one.  I sometimes get the feeling that some of their other online systems aren't being monitored, so jobs that residents submit end up ignored in a dusty corner somewhere (the tree lopping system is an example of that).  However, the graffiti management process seems to be pretty good from my perspective.

Contrast this with the process used by the Education Department.  If staff notice graffiti on school property (which is a very big if), they start by notifying the Police via the Police Assistant Line (PAL).  This is actually a pretty good service - I've had to use it once or twice, and I've visited one of the Police call centres on the Central Coast that provide the service - it was the nicest call centre that I've ever laid eyes on (and I've seen a few).  

Contacting the Police isn't that hard, but it can be time consuming.  Once an event number is provided, the school (probably the Principal) has to contact the insurance company and lodge a claim - and if you have ever dealt with an insurance company, you know how bad that can be.  Once that's done, the school has to contact Spotless, who have the contract for school maintenance.  I've rung the Spotless help desk, and dealing with them was a pretty thankless experience.  

The Council system and the Education Department system can be summarised as follows:

  • Straightforward, simple Council system vs compex, convoluted Education system
  • On-line Council system with minimal inputs vs phone contact with lots of input required
  • Fast Council process vs time-consuming Education process
  • One stop shop Council system vs many non-interfaced systems in the Education Department model
  • "Any idiot can use it" Council system vs only "those in the know can use it" Education system
Is it any wonder then that Council can have graffiti removed in less than 24 hours, whilst it can take the Education Department 24 weeks to achieve the same result?  This is an area that is crying out for a bit of process re-engineering.

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