Part 2 : “Thinking Inside the Box”
The phrase “to think outside the box” has become the archetype of increasingly meaningless 'corporate-speak'.
Yet, from time immemorial - long before the invention of the wheel – the first incarnations of the box began with a folded large leaf and hollowed-out tree trunk so as to carry water and food and the creation of four walls and roof for shelter, thousands of years of incremental technological development leading to boxes as the case of a palm-held e-device, itself cyber-connected to more and more satellite relay boxes that orbit the earth.
We live in a world wherein 'the box' of whatever material, size and form derives its basic utility from a contained space put to functional use. Yet as the Zen Buddhists well recognised in their own teachings, it is not the shell itself that is the specifically useful component of the vessel, but the empty area within.
Beyond the plethora of increasingly sophisticated boxes that allowed civilisation to prosper materialistically, societies themselves must be well governed via speedy and efficient implementation of its codes of conduct, so as to operate as peacefully and productively as possible.
As described previously, very much 'part and parcel' of such an aim is the central role of the emergency services, spanning Police, Ambulance and Fire-Rescue. These public services around the world have evolved from basic volunteer roots (still so in many rural areas) through to civic-run highly structured and increasingly mechanised regimes.
Throughout each services history their development and effectiveness can be seen as either evolutionary or revolutionary.
An example of the evolutionary manner was the way that in some US regions the large, heavy and laborious horse-drawn steam-powered fire pump was at the turn of the 20th century fitted with a new motorised 'traction head'; a truly hybridised machine that on paper provided both cost-savings by retaining the rear wagon construction and pump, and much reduced long-life costs and comparative reliability after initial expensive outlay; its secondary function to encourage the popularisation of motor vehicles so as to clean-up urban areas from the dirt and disease of street-dropped manure.
An example of the revolutionary manner was by the mid 1970s seen with the introduction of very specialist large and capable fire appliances for rapidly changing airport and military-base applications. The size, material and fuel-type of then modern planes – led by the 'Jumbo Jet' – meant that standard appliances became increasingly impotent. Much increased needs in water capacity, foam capacity, spray-reach and response time meant that a new radically different generation of new dedicated tenders were required, to be known as 'Crash Tenders'.
Thus we see that given specific circumstances an evolutionary or revolutionary approach has been determined by commensurate authorities, but each has its own pros and cons: evolutionary typically cost-related, revolutionary typically task-related.
What is required is the ability to merge both 'evolutionary cost efficiency' and 'revolutionary task efficiency'.
Everyday Observation -
From simple observation of the world around us, investment-auto-motives believes it sees opportunities for, and multiple gains to be had, from a “box modularisation” approach for what have become ever more broadening remit (yet also task-tailored) Police, Ambulance and Fire-Rescue vehicles.
Modularisation has been with us for thousands of years, as seen from the building of the Egyptian pyramids through to the scaled basis farming which underpinned Britain's 'Enclosure Act' in the 18th century.
Critically it sat at the heart of 20th century industrial age, from the layout and 'cabinetisation'of the electro-mechanics of early automated telephone call-relay sub-stations, to its focus in 'Modernist Design' led by the Bauhaus, to commercial and domestic shelving units, to kitchen cabinets, to the open-plan modular office, right through to 'modularised sub-systems' in car platform design, so allowing greater cross-vehicle type applications and so much reduced unit costs.
Yet, whilst very well exemplified by the tea-carrying crates of the 18th century for better arrangement of a tea-clipper's ship's hold, and seen again in most things mass-manufactured, such as shoes, the nadir of modularisation – indeed 'adaptive modularisation' - came with the creation of the Multi-Modal Transport Container in the mid to late 1950s that eradicated the bottle-necks between sea, rail and road transportation.
Thus intelligently designed Prime and Sub-System Commonality sits at the centre of cost, efficiency and effectiveness.
In the automotive world modularisation has been periodically in vogue since the Model T Ford given its multi-functionality, critical to the deployment of 'carry-over' platform engineering and the increased use of 'module sets' in chassis and electrical engineering, and perhaps most visible to the consumer when the likes of Rover and FIAT used a modular instrument binnacle respectively in the 1970s on SD1 and 1980s on Panda models in relation to RHD and LHD variants.
Thus is used as a CapEx reduction ploy on such relative small in-vehicle parts, ultimately the same philosophy's adoption at a whole vehicle level, would provide for a prosaically far more important 'mix and match' / “plug and play” system used upon the Emergency Vehicle vans fleet.
So providing a true leap-forward regards the big-picture of logistics rationalisation
At this critical juncture, with the UK still much affected by governmental spending constraints, and the need to fundamentally re-organise and rationalise the public sector over the long-term, it now that the methods of the Emergency Services should be holistically reconsidered.
Thus, instead of having to invariably order a specific body-type on a specific wheelbase from a specialist 'body-building' firm – so wedding forever body on frame/mechanicals - the fleet would consist of independent 'rolling chassis' (with possibly extendible and retractable wheelbase) and independent body structure, conjoined with appropriately standardised mechanical and electrical connectors.
Ultimately, in the medium-sized van segment – obviously the central basis for such a scheme - a designed suite of conventionally purchased ('COTS') “Mobile Platforms” and specifically task-tailored “Modular Bodies”; attached as necessary.
The Emergency Services' Budget Challenge -
Although ingrained in the citizen's consciousness, the very brevity of their titles do a disservice to appreciating the spectrum of tasks undertaken.
As societies develop to become ever more humanitarian, sophisticated and diverse, so these services inevitably become increasingly more complex. This so in terms of social and commercial activities, public and specific regulations, improved and new technologies etc. Numerous PESTEL influences which put ever greater demands upon the everyday operations of each emergency service.
Central government and local operational budgets inevitably swell and diminish over time, themselves directly affected by the broad economic cycles of the national economy. With this fluctuation senior-level decision-making likewise becomes concomitantly more complex.
Which areas must be expanded so requiring new technical and manpower investment? Which areas can remain effectively static? Which may be reduced?
An overtly simplistic observation, but unlike in the corporate field, where the outcome is that of increased profitability, stagnation, or bottom-line losses, these services directly impact upon the population, at a group and personal levels, and even indirectly and so sub-consciously, in turn determining individual and social habits.
As has been experienced with negative social effects, the impact of the 'Great Recession' has been felt across all western nations, now also similarly seen since 2012 or so in the once booming EM countries.
The desired outcome of Quantitative Easing did indeed have the desired effects of systemic financial re-stabilisation, and new stimulus within the nation's banking sector - albeit with substantial flows of such QE funds actually invested abroad by proprietary trading banks even with rebuilt Chinese Walls between Retail and Investment - the fact is that at governmental level the UK has been forced to endure prolonged “Austerity Budgeting”, as unpopular but seemingly necessary major cut-backs in government expenditure seek to 're-balancing the books'.
The Credit Boom and Bust of the 'Social Good' -
Here it should be noted that during the mid 1990s to mid 2000s (the boom years), the various portions of the Public Sector – excluding the Emergency Services – seemingly grew in bureaucracy far beyond a socially useful level. This expansion of the public sector, using debt, to essentially create a vast array of 'non-jobs' so as to keep the housing and consumer economies growing. When Britain should have been developing ever more advanced production and services internally and attracting FDI for notionally called 'post-industrial' areas to then be re-exported, it instead relied upon short-termist gains, much of this based upon the internalised holy-grail of management consultants and 'corporate speak' to equate to the dynamic corporate world; yet in reality adding little fundamental true value to most citizen's everyday experiences in terms of positive social good.
The 'snap-back' of such a blinkered approach toward real value is that the few truly useful 'social services' with profits to be had will be taken-up by private enterprise at lower cost (such as satiating the mobility needs of comparitively well-off OAP's), whilst other demographic groups experience “service retraction” and so even greater socio-economic exclusion.
Herein, the monies of the newly expanded payroll budget for state-worker's increased salaries would have better served society by helping those – often socially invisible because of their inability to interact – in most dire need.
The Corresponding Social Cost -
So the social cost of the now induced and seemingly everlasting “Austerity Budgeting” has been huge. From the single person relying upon very scant benefits, to whole families now hit hard by the loss of those previous parental 'non-jobs', to the multi-aspect external consequences of a 'broken society'; which the Police, Ambulance and Fire-Rescue must deal with, and best 'patch-up' in the moment.
This ranges from the breakdown of family and inter-personal relationships because of scant or unwisely spent monies, such stresses leading to to an increase in alcohol and substance abuse, and so increasingly erratic and unthinking behaviour. Causing often unintentional but very destructive situations. Such outcomes appear across a vast field of human activities: from severe motoring accidents causing death or disability, through to the development of a 'them and us' mentality amongst tribal-like social groups (including middle-class adults aswell as street gangs) to the inevitable effects upon children, developing poor playground and classroom behaviour, which eventually results in the societal dilemma of the disaffected teenager and so disaffected adult.
Thus it is sadly paradoxical that during such periods when the emergency services are called upon the most, that they themselves have proportionately reduced resources by which to fulfil their expanded roles.
Budget Reality vs Social Expectations -
Unfortunately within advanced nations, the very economic success over the preceding 150 years which underpinned creation of the modern emergency services – with budgetary peaks in the 1950s/60s and 1980s/90s – has perhaps led to an over-expectation of what can now be achieved without internal implementation reforms of varying magnitude.
This high expectation perhaps especially so the attitude amongst older members of both the emergency services and the public at large, those who have themselves enjoyed the heyday periods when society was calmer and budgets proportionately bigger.
Such reforms, understandably resisted by those at the coal-face, have been under-way for some time, mostly in more subtle, less immediately visible 'back-office' and operational ways – so affecting civilian staffing capabilities as much as the prime concern of numbers of 'beat officers' and core staff numbers.
Over a decade ago the London and York Fire Brigades themselves sought to reduce costs by leasing its Fire Tenders from an external private equity backed supplier called AssetCo. What (on the surface) appears either bad management or more likely a case of deliberate over-leverage to allow for personal rewarded 'financial engineering'. The apparent deliberate 'run-down' of service support to the London Fire Brigade meant as the firm faltered caused very real problems for the LFEPA (the Brigades Planning Authority) and resulted the AssetCo Premier division's liquidation in Novermber 2012, thereafter sold to the military and civil services group Babcock International for a nominal fee.
This case highlights the manner in which some Municipalities, keen to off-load budget responsibilities for such services – can be drawn by the 'easy money' of Private Equity deals whilst the services themselves (and the public) suffer the consequences of value-extraction ploys.
Elsewhere, even with a firm negotiation stance by locally independent vehicle procurement managers, seeking to maximise budget stretch by offering their own 'tenders for contract' to the manufacturers and body-builders, it is noted that the car-parc age of many Police, Ambulance and Fire vehicles inevitably increased as internal assets were sweated ever harder.
Having done so to cut costs, the new crop of replacement vehicles, from tactical-response Police BMWs to multi-role Vauxhall estates to NHS 'quick response' MPVs, will have no doubt been procured with sizeable discounts, especially after 2008.
But herein procurement is typically undertaken on a regional/county basis often using local dealerships (though price compared to other non-regional dealers to ensure reduced prices).
However, the fact remains that given the relatively small number of model specific vehicles needed at the local level, such discounts on smallish volumes will inevitably be less than if cooperatively bought with other regions to boost the volumes purchased.
As such, there is a strong argument for inter-regional and cross-service collaboration when replacing vehicles or indeed adding new.
Budget Reality vs Technologically Improved Practice -
Such cost-saving efforts across the board by the Emergency Services as seen to date have undoubtedly had a positive effect on CapEx and Operational cashflow drain; obviously relating to the overhead costs and unit-based costs (from head-count to fleet-count)as recognised in everyday standard practice.
Given central government budget allowances and targets, Police Commissioners, NHS Transport CEOs and Fire-Rescue Heads together with their various supporting departmental managers, have sought to cut as “far back to the bone” as they dare.
Whilst simultaneously trying to maintain visible levels of law and order, medical response and other categories of emergency response, from burned-out stolen cars to the proverbial 'cat up a tree'. Whilst also knowing that the criminal element sees such cut-backs and response times as manna from heaven, recognising that response times, effectiveness and outcome may inevitably suffer and so allow greater opportunity for crime.
Thus any alteration of conventional practices because of budgetary expansion or contraction simply alters the size of the 'traditional pie', which inevitably result in consequential acclaim or criticism as political, union and public perception notes the changes made - usually pertaining to the number of publicly seen 'beat officers', police cars, ambulances and fire trucks.
To combat this and seek scaled efficiencies some regions have created the role of Cross-Service Commissioners, so as to merge commonalities.
The role of such men and women is to sure 'visioneer' the strategic and operational futures of both their region and importantly the complete UK Emergency Services network.
One of the few very useful reality TV series have been those following the everyday workings of a local police constabulary or unit. Whilst filmed in a somewhat sensationalist manner, it does allow for that large portion of viewing public removed from such, to far better understand at least some of what actually goes on underneath the veneer of a seemingly 'civilised' society.
These TV shows have illustrated how various technology have allowed for rationalised and so improved law enforcement, ranging from at the lowest end the use of a simple 'zip-tie' as restraining instrument to the tyre-shredding 'stinger' to much improved communications to heat-sensing helicopter cameras.
Similarly the modern ambulance is a far cry from the stretcher shuttle of decades ago, today operating as a minuscule medical-centre on wheels, in which paramedics can assess far more than the vital signs of life, and so provide a useful briefing to the staff and doctors upon arrival at a hospital.
Indeed it is often able to offer the appropriate medical aid on the spot, so negating the need to even travel to hospital which itself takes up far more resources.
And the Fire Brigade long ago took on far broader responsibilities in the areas of urban, rural and highway rescue; the latter most prolific. The implements used for cutting occupants from the body-shells of crashed vehicles – inflatable airbags to upright overturned or precarious vehicles through to the sensitive air-controlled pincer cutters which act as 'tin-openers' - have become ever more sophisticated through experience, research and development by specialist supplier companies.
Technological applications and their advancements, whether low-cost or high-cost, have assisted the Emergency Services almost immeasurably as their multi-various fleet vehicles and trained personnel undertake ever more socially assistive responsibilities and overall productivity increases.
Yesteryear was about operational centralisation, best seen by the example of a large 1960s General Hospital. It has to deal with everything from the results of self-inflicted stupidity (eg Johnny's head stuck in a saucepan), through to highly emotive 'life or death' situations.
Today and tomorrow seemingly continues to see the decentralisation of operations, again the hospital example proving most useful, seeing far more specialist centres set-up to deal with important cases, the 'accident and emergency' department dedicated to important tasks rather than having to deal with facile cases, and the less serious being dealt with in situ.
This trend of decentralisation, assisted by technological progress, means that the very shape of the Emergency Service fleet looks to continually evolve.
Long-Termism over Short-Sighteness -
But critically it must evolve along truly long-term rational lines and not simply in a short-termist reactionary manner to the immediate 'commercial imperative'.
The leadership committees of the Emergency Services together with government ministers should explore into how the very fundamentals of conventional practice could and should be intelligently and radically altered so as to provide more for less.
Both in terms of direct and in-direct expense and the effectiveness of functional service implementation.
Time to Think Afresh -
Recognising how a system might be improved through both cost-saving and performance improvement is the raison d'etre of management science. And it is typically only at times of crisis, or those of fundamentally changed conditions, that any organisation seeks to adopt meaningful change.
With regard to the Public Sector we have seen how the seemingly more adroit eye of private enterprise has sought to raise efficiencies and cost savings.
But alas, we have also seen how overtly commercial (and indeed personal-reward) parent company pressures can severely undermine any one Service; the AssetCo experience will long live with seniors of the London Fire Brigade.
The UK's utilities (telecoms, water, electricity) were privatised long ago, with the NHS currently under-going a slow process of re-organisation and rationalisation from Trusts to next generation entities through Trust consolidation or new entity introductions – with good, mediocre and some reportedly bad results.
Public Sector services plainly originated from the desire to improve society, with the utilitarian edict of “the greatest gain for the greatest number”. And so whilst rightly seeking the reduction of waste, government must also ensure that the tide of gradual part and full privatisation should be properly weighed against the likelihood of “profits before people”.
And this is where a nation-based long-term planning schema for Emergency Service vehicles, by an independent body, needs to be asserted, so as to span much from high volume procurement to future-facing powerful Research and Development.
Herein the roles and multi-various functionalities of the Emergency Services is a hot topic for debate.
Unlike the wholly dedicated building infrastructure required, from hospitals to police stations to fire-rescue training facilities, the issue of transportation (and its increasingly task specialisation) looks to be prime for creative review, perceived – pun intended - from a very high altitude “helicopter viewpoint”.