159 – Making a local government service catalogue. Part 1: Where do you start?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         740 words

service catalogue food images

Across local government in Victoria councils are starting to discuss core and non-core services and the need to make a service catalogue – in other words, list of all the services they provide. In part this interest has been sparked by rate capping and the need to better understand where revenue is going. Any council attempting to increase rates above the Essential Services Commission cap will need an argument that is supported by their community. So what is a service catalogue?

In its simplest form it is a list of all the services a council offers, and by default, anything not on the list is not offered. It doesn’t mean that other services can’t be offered but there will need to be consideration of the costs and benefits before committing to do so. The list will need to be controlled once it has been made.  Deciding what services you will and won’t offer (and who will and won’t receive them) is at the heart of strategy.

Some Victorian councils have said that their organisational structure reflects their service catalogue and they have made a list of all departments or units and said it is their catalogue. Others have looked to their budgets and the cost centres created over many years and said that they reflect services.   Using these approaches, councils have created catalogues with between 15 and 300 services on them.

This approach overlooks a basic idea in business – services are defined by their consumers, not the suppliers. Sure, councils need to have a view of their operations that allows them to sensibly and efficiently allocate resources to delivering services, but the catalogue won’t make sense to the people it matters the most unless it reflects the ‘customer’s voice’. How do customers define services?

One approach is to create a list of services from the customer’s viewpoint. It still relies on the council properly understanding what the community and service users think but there are sure to be some people in every council who are close enough to the customer to understand what is important to them. One list I have seen was created by the leader of the customer service team providing first point of contact services (i.e. counter and phones). It talked about ‘my home’, ‘my bills’, ‘my environment’, ‘my lifestyle’, ‘my travel’, etc. Each of these service areas had specific services linked to it – roads, waste collection, health club, library, parks, building control, kindergartens, etc.

The customer’s view raises a significant challenge for councils because it doesn’t reflect the organisational structure and power bases. It is much more focused on the outputs or outcomes expected. The processes that sit behind those outputs and outcomes, which often run across several units or departments, are cross-functional processes that have probably not been identified, mapped or owned.

In creating a genuine service catalogue that includes services as defined by the community or customer, a new way of seeing services is required. This was discussed in some detail in a previous post and essentially involves defining services as end-to-end processes that deliver a specific output or outcome to an identified customer. The customer could be a service user, client, ratepayer, resident, citizen, etc. as also discussed in a previous post. What is important is that it is the person or organisation determining what a service is and whether or not it has been delivered.

The implications of adopting this way of thinking can be found through a simple mapping exercise that connects existing cost centres (which will have information about the functional area responsible for it and the resources allocated to it) with the list of customer defined services. It sounds easy and will actually take time and require organisational leaders with broad knowledge of services and closeness to service users.

I have found that this usually includes people such as the customer service team leader, the cost management accountant, IT manager, and service managers who regularly deal with service failure and customer service escalations.

This group can get the service catalogue well underway by coding each cost centre with the customer defined services. If this is done in a spreadsheet it will enable analysis using pivot tables, for example to align customer definitions and cost centres with functional responsibility (the officer responsible for the cost centre). This will enable the cross-functional services to be identified (lots of different responsible officers) and who needs to be involved in reviewing the service to improve delivery.

This mapping of organisational and customer views is good preparation for finalisation of the service catalogue in collaboration with the organisational leadership group.