Open letter to the heads of the civil service on how their workers can be gainfully employed while working from home
By Andronicos Zervides
Dear Permanent Secretaries
While your departmental ministers and our government are doing their very best to deal with the Covid-19 emergency, an opening has arisen to permanently improve our country by May 31. Thousands of civil servants, your staff, are being paid to stay at home on full salaries with very little work to do. This creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
I propose everyone that fits this category is asked to do three relatively simple emergency tasks over an eight-week period starting on Monday:
Many departmental websites are out of date and frankly dire. Take the Road Transport Department. Most citizens and residents don’t give a damn about its mission statement, organisational chart, tenders, or legislation. They want easy-to-find solution-based answers to basic questions in Greek or English such as how much does my car tax cost, how do I pay it, when can I pay it?
It is not the government IT department’s job to provide content. Your staff have to, in the same way a Cypriot farmer wishing to sell organic egg laying chickens online would not expect an IT content specialist to be a mind reader. So….
Please make a list of the 100-200 most common questions asked, starting with ‘how do I…. ?’ Members of staff that are not normally customer facing can review their departmental website and repeat the same exercise by making the same list asking the question, ‘what do I think members of the public want to know or wish to do?’ Some answers will involve two departments, for example ‘how do I import a car?’, in which case, put a simple-to-understand process on both websites.
Do the above in week 1, review the findings in week 2 and send to the government IT department to upload in Greek during week 3. It does not have to look pretty at first, just get it done. Week 4, professionally translate the above and give it to the IT department to upload in English (and Turkish if this is the law).
The result will be fewer phone calls and visits by members of the public which wastes everyone’s time. Do this by April 30 and everyone will be happier.
Turgid departmental forms
I sometimes get the impression that some government forms, whether online or paper, were designed by inexperienced, uneducated persons who only got their jobs 20 years ago because they knew someone important. I give an example, the banking complaint ombudsman form. To make a complaint, you have to go to a bank to get a form stamped proving you paid their fee. In other countries, it’s simple to make complaints electronically. I propose your staff currently working at home review every form, with one simple question in mind: ‘how can I make life easier for everyone?’ When this exercise has been done and approved, the IT department can upload them with full help instructions in Greek and English. Please do this by May 31 and it will make Cyprus a better place.
Your working practices
Ask your staff to make a list of how to improve working practices to limit the numbers having to visit your offices. Imagine your department is a commercial business with competitors. How can we improve the lives of our customers so they remain with us? I’ll use the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) as an example. In other countries, you can open an account online. In Cyprus it took me three physical visits, at two hours round trip with wasted CO2 each time. I even had to go to my bank to get an original document proving my IBAN number so as to autopay my bill, even though I have had a second property for many years.
Again, using the EAC as an example, please change your working practices so that planned routine outages are notified in advance via email and SMS, rather than a man with a van leaving notes at random on car windscreens. I’ve already sent you the system spec.
My final example of a working practice that needs to change reflects the final step in the overwhelming bureaucracy involved in importing a car. Imagine you’ve gone through all the hurdles and see the finishing line. You are at the transport department in a queue for one hour, gleefully handing over the paperwork when your turn finally comes. The agent then says, ‘where’s your €5 stamp? We don’t sell stamps, go to a post office’. At which point you feel an urge to phone the Samaritans due to the emotional distress.
Please make these changes by May 31 and it will make Cyprus a wonderful place. It is not rocket science. Your staff are quite capable of doing all of this while they are on full pay and have time on their hands. The coronavirus situation is dire but something good can come out of this for all our citizens and residents.
Members of the public, if you agree with the above, please politely email the government IT department at email@example.com, so it can persuade other departments to cooperate. If you get no satisfactory answer, please email the president’s office.
CC HE President Nicos Anastasiades
Andronicos Zervides is a semi-retired Cypriot with 40 years IT and 30 years executive management experience advising large organisations on improving problem and change processes internationally