The Channel Shift From Paper Communications to Email and SMS

As of late 2018, GOV.UK’s digital procurement service, Digital Marketplace, had sold over £4 billion worth of systems and services to the public sector (GOV.UK). And with these sizable investment figures one thing is clear, the public sector are emphasising the importance of digital.

With sizable savings forecasted by a “digital by design” government structure (NESTA), councils are looking to benefit from the improved workflows and efficiencies gained by adopting technology. One area that is undergoing this transition is the way public services communicate with residents, shifting from print and post channels to digital. With increasing cost and environmental implications of paper use for communication, the public sector are integrating SMS and email into their strategy more and more going forward.

Today we will briefly explore the figures and themes concerning both methods and the reasons that support the transition.

Always available (SMS and Email)

The growing use of the internet and sharp uptake of smartphones are some of the most identifiable trends linked to digitals favourability. With the ONS indicating a steady decline in non-internet users (ONS) and Ofcom’s report showing 3 in 4 people are smartphone owners (Ofcom), the reach of digital communication is rising fast, making it a great way of contacting service users. In the past, emails and SMS were only accessible by desktop and mobile phone respectively. The evolution of the smartphone however has offered vast functionality improvement, with users now able to receive communications from both channels on their device.

This has made communication by digital an attractive proposition in terms of not only reach, but through cost savings. By implementing digital processes, organisations can reduce their overall cost attributed by using other channels. This was demonstrated by Hertfordshire-based Dacorum Borough Council, who conducted research alongside Hull University exploring implementing an effective channel shift strategy. Their findings included an estimated saving of £435,000 over 5 years by implementing just 26 newly digitised processes (Local Gov). These findings were broadly supported in a Local Gov study in 2015, which predicted becoming digital by default would save local government an estimated £1.55 million a year (LocalGov).

As a result of findings similar to the ones above, central government has been working toward making digital communication more accessible. The primary example of this being GOV.UK Notify, a government run service that aims to reduce the cost of communication for public services, with email and text being particularly cost effective compared to private third parties.

Going Paperless

Using paper to deliver reminders, confirmations and communications had been a long standing method employed by government before digital. Printable from service offices, this process required staff to create individual letters, then subsequently print and dispatch them to resident’s houses. This meant that residents received a physical copy of any communications that they could refer to, which could be beneficial for updates and reminders.

However, this also relied on offices maintaining printers and stationary stock, while absorbing the cost of postage when sending out communications. When compared to digital, the cost centres associated with providing communication by post has not reduced over the years, making it a less cost effective approach to modern communication. This was suggested by 2012’s Digital Efficiency Report, which estimated that digital transactions were 30 times lower than postal, with digital adoption presenting a 7% total saving to the government for print communications (GOV.UK).

Some councils are currently in the process of reducing their use of print communication. By adopting digital, the previously mentioned Dacorum Borough Council had forecasted a reduction in their postage costs by 33% through digital savings (LocalGov).

Communication Preferences

However, despite the paper free targets being set by public sector entities such as the NHS (GOV.UK), post is still a necessary part of the governments communication, at least for now. Although the majority of households have infrastructure that allows them to access the internet at home (95%) (Statista) or text messages (Statista), there is still a large proportion of the population who do not. Without basic access to the internet or SMS, users can be digitally excluded from communications and be without important messages. This proves to be large risk of utilising an only digital strategy.

There’s also the question of if digital is available to everyone, will they use it. Although there is an underlying preference for those who are affluent and under 45, the strength trails off as it increases in age and varies by job type (Deloitte). This however will logically reduce as digital communication becomes more widely adopted across all age groups and preferences evolve in future.

Stopford offer both email and SMS options with all booking solutions to support printed confirmations and reminders. Get in touch with Stopford to integrate your chosen communication methods via the contact form here.