Reform of healthcare, social welfare and rescue services: What is it? The organisation of public healthcare, social welfare and rescue services will be reformed in Finland. The responsibility for organising these services will be transferred from municipalities to wellbeing services counties from 2023. The key objective of the reform is to improve the availability and quality of basic public services throughout Finland. (source: https://soteuudistus.fi/en/frontpage)
Söderström knows that preparing the reform (in Fin. "Sote uudistus") takes up an enormous amount of municipalities' limited IT resources. Due to the reform, system and administrative structures are often built from scratch.
A large deal of municipalities' workforce and support functions are transferred to wellbeing services counties. It has been stated that the IT costs should be percentually decreased in municipalities.
"In reality, the costs are not divided this way as the reform does not drastically decrease the number of systems. Merely the systems related to customer or patient management, medical care, and social care are transferred away from the municipalities", Söderström emphasizes.
The remaining systems are, for example, the various financial management, payroll, and personnel management systems, which do not require any additional IT resources to be allocated. Söderström points out that the billing of some system licenses is based on the number of residents, not the number of employees or system users in a municipality.
However, what is true is that one business sector, social and healthcare services, will be transferred from municipalities to well-being services counties. Thus, municipalities' operating costs and expenses are divided among fewer employees. In other words, the base cost per employee increases, and municipalities face the need to cut down their costs.
Resources are needed to streamline operations
According to Söderström, the costs can be cut in businesses' support functions by decreasing the amount of manual labor and IT system costs. Both cannot be implemented simultaneously, however, the automation of manual processes always requires an investment in the development of the technology, testing, and maintenance.
"If an integration platform to support the automation does not exist yet, it needs to be purchased," Söderström says.
Söderström describes that automation solutions should primarily tackle repetitive tasks, such as modifying, printing, saving, or transferring data from one system to another.
"Many tasks are repeated simply because they have always been done that way," adds Söderström.
The process owner of each work phase should be aware of why certain work is done and how much time it consumes. Automation is likely to be a good idea if a work phase should be repeated even more often than before to eliminate other bottlenecks. However, recruiting more employees to conduct such tasks is rarely a realistic option for financially struggling municipalities.
"Streamlining business functions with IT systems always increases the amount of work and costs for the IT department, but altogether it is less than would have been generated for the business unit," Söderström sums up.
Implementing the change strategy requires cooperation and realism
Before starting with an IT project, Söderström recalls how important it is to ensure comprehending the process flow.
"One cannot enhance the unknown. Often it is helpful to work with process consultants who can evaluate the processes with fresh eyes. Focus on creating a clear plan of what to automate and how."
When it comes to the vision, it should be easy to understand for everyone. Dialog and trust between the business unit and the IT department are crucial.
"Realistic goals should be set for implementing the vision, as changing the work methods takes time both in the definition and testing phase. Track the progress and celebrate the success!"
Söderström thinks that IT functions in municipalities will grow year by year. Technical experts will be required to understand and support business development and streamlining even more.
"There is no shortcut for happiness, but we are likely to agree on the fact that residents deserve efficient municipalities to serve them in their everyday needs." - concludes Lars.
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