Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Operations Excellence in Malaysia

Let me share with you some instances of operations excellence I witnessed in Malaysia.  All in the public sector or Government offices.

The first was a couple of years ago.  I was delivering a session on Customer Service in the Public Sector to an international group of senior public sector officials at The National Institute of Public Administration (Institut Tadbiran Awam Negara or INTAN).  As part of the program, INTAN had organized a ‘show and tell’ visit to the National Registration Dept. (Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara or JPN).  I tagged along, curious to see what they had done.
Datuk Abdul Halim Muhammad

I was pleasantly surprised, first of all to see the (then) Director-General, Datuk Abdul Halim Muhammad (pic) take active personal interest in the visit.  He began by greeting us all and then making a detailed presentation of their quality journey.  The presentation was laced with performance metrics and showed how JPN had improved its performance over the years – in the process, winning several national awards.  Datuk Halim took great pride in showing us around.  Of special pride for him were the toilets!  Yes.  The building, several floors tall, had toilets on every floor and each one of them was maintained like bedrooms at home!  Not only were they spick and span, many of them had curtains and furniture and were decorated with pictures to give a pleasant experience to the users!  Apparently the D-G ran a competition every year for the best maintained toilet!

Another ‘show piece’ was the archive.  Here, the Datuk asked one of the visitors to give their identity card.  When a senior Malaysian produced one, he took it to the nearest officer and asked her to fetch the previous versions of that card.  He then asked us to note the exact time.  Mildly amused, I did as directed.  Less than a minute later, the officer was back with a small envelope containing all the previous identity cards issued to the lady!  These were old cards that were collected back by the Dept., when newer versions were introduced.  So, we had all the way from paper cards, to laminated, to magnetic stripe!  The Datuk told us that the SLA for the retrieval was 42 seconds (if I remember right)!

Finally, on our way back, we visited the Customer Center – this is where people come to have their cards / duplicates issued, get their marriages registered, etc.  Another delightful experience.  They even had a lovely chamber where the newly married couple was facilitated and could take pictures in studio-style settings!  At the waiting area itself was another great concept.  Like in most places, people were required to take a token from an automated dispenser when they entered.

Feedback Boxes
What was different and interesting was that after they finished their work, on their way out, they were asked to drop the token in one of four boxes, marked with icons, showing different levels of satisfaction – from smiley to grumpy!  The boxes were transparent and locked!  This is a simple way to collect customer feedback and no doubt, you may have seen it elsewhere.  Nothing could be simpler, more transparent and immediate than this.  I still wonder why more businesses do not follow this simple method.  It is amusing to think of the thousands of dollars many companies spend on seeking customer feedback in more complex and expensive, yet less reliable, ways!

OK, this post is not all about the JPN.  More recently I had to accompany my wife to get a duplicate driving license (original stolen).  So we go to the nearest Road Transport Department office (Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan or JPJ).  I am fully armed.  I have taken half a day off from office and equipped myself with multiple passport size pictures of my wife, her passport and copies of the same, etc.  When I reached the office, I found there was a photography studio on the premises which gave out prints instantly.  Next, from taking the token to walking out with the new license (renewed for 2 years) in hand took, may be 3 minutes.  Yes three.  Our token number was called almost immediately and the lady at the counter knew exactly what she needed to do.  She verified my wife’s identity, collected the photographs, asked the period for which she wanted the license renewed, collected cash and printed out the new license.   That’s all!

Having worked in the public sector for nearly two decades, let me tell you it is nothing short of amazing to ‘transform’ a government department to this level of efficiency and effectiveness!  To get everything from selecting the right IT system and vendor, implementing the system, hiring staff with the right attitude, training them on the processes and ensuring they deliver as planned, is not a challenge for the faint hearted!!  I hope the service is comparable at JPJ's other branches!

Of course, I have also heard and read of many mishaps -- in the press and in coffee shop gossip. However, what I also see is the push within the government to get things right.  Little pockets of success like the ones highlighted here should be celebrated.  

Celebrating success is an essential part of the process of transformation (see diagram).  I would urge the Malaysian Govt to pay more attention to this part: simple Public Relations.  Not, “in the face” blunt advertisements and slogans, but just getting the word out; to exploit "word of mouth".  I would even argue for putting in place a small team of "spin doctors" to focus on this.  The Govt. also needs to get a better handle on social media – after all this country is one of the biggest users of this media.  It’s time the Govt learned how to handle such soft communications better!