Sunday, 21 February 2016

Outsourcing – a Cautionary Tale

Pool at the Tambo Mill

Readers of this humble blog would know that I travel a great deal in South Western Queensland for a large, and fairly unwieldy government bureaucracy.

Until recently, the arrangements for this travel (motel bookings and the like) were done locally. It was a simple exercise. You completed a form, available as an Ms Word template, and emailed it to the local officer who authorised it and made the booking with the relevant motel.

In the eight years I’d been using it, I can’t remember one failed or missed booking. There was always a bed waiting at the end of the day – a thoroughly reliable service.

The moteliers liked it because there was no cost to them.

Then Noddy Newman’s government came into power in 2012. Fairly early in his term, his government sacked 13000 public servants. One of them was the officer who did the travel bookings. Now these sackings were carried out ostensibly to save money, so it would have been logical to assume that henceforth we would make our own bookings. It took, after all, one phone call, once we’d secured approval based on our travel diaries.

Not so.

The Newman government outsourced the travel bookings to a Sydney based agency as part of their policy settings based on "small government". This agency was, after all, a private corporation, so it stood to reason that they would do a much better job than their public service counterparts.

I’ve been forced to use them since the beginning of 2015.

First of all, I had to be trained to use their website. When summoned to attend the training (during time I thought I could much more profitably use dong my real job) I protested, saying that I’d been around computer systems for a while, and could probably teach myself.

No – I had to attend. After the training session it became obvious why training was necessary.  I’ve used a few websites to book travel in my time, but this one is positively the clunkiest I have ever encountered. You need the patience of Job and a cut lunch to get it done.

Another problem was that the service was designed for the SES high rollers who stayed at metropolitan hotels in the various big smokes, and the relatively obscure hostelries I frequented simply weren’t on their database. Nobody in Sydney had heard of (for example) Tambo, let alone the excellent Tambo Mill Motel.

This meant that every time I needed to stay at one of the more remote locations in my caseload area, I had to phone the agency’s helpline and request they put the site on their database.
Then in August last year I rocked up at one of the places I frequented (St George) only to find that no booking had been made, despite my laboured input. I am a regular at this establishment, so they put me in my usual room, but I began to stop assuming that their system worked, and usually phoned ahead to make sure a booking was in the system.

To my cost, I didn’t phone ahead last week, and when I arrived at the hostelry I’d booked in Goondiwindi, they’d never heard of me. Same thing happened – I’m a regular and they found me a room, but now I have absolutely no confidence in the outsourced system. 

It turned out there was a booking, but at the wrong motel. I guess the agency assumes that one motel in Goondiwindi is as good as another, and all I had to do was ring around until I found the right one.
The moteliers hate the system, by the way, as it creams off a hefty commission.

I wonder how much the agency gets from the taxpayer for the contract, and I also wonder how many others are being stuffed around by an ideology that puts private profit before public service.

Ain’t outsourcing wonderful……..

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