Technology could help Local Government meet their funding gap - as well as helping them 'spend better'. What's holding them back?
The LGA (Local Government Association) identified that by 2020, councils will have faced a reduction of central Government funding of nearly £16bn since 2010. This means local authorities will have lost 60 pence out of every £1 the Government has provided to spend on local services (Source: LGA).
How Can Councils 'Spend Better' With Technology?
The focus of Local Government spending activities is often around driving down costs, however we also need to consider the other side of the coin and look at how councils can spend the budgets they do have, better.
There are plenty of opportunities for councils to transform, innovate and provide better and more efficient services for customers through better use of technology. This can help increase value for both residents and visitors, as well as help them meet the funding gap.
Designing joined-up, outcome-based services that focus on the customer perspective allows councils to become flatter, leaner and with more agile structures. This can reduce technology complexity at the same time as enabling (expected) capabilities such as self-service and 24x7 access to services and information. More agile working linked to better use of technology also enables more opportunities such as the use of automation and robotics to further drive down operating costs as the processes and technology mature.
However, a recent survey (view) of local authorities by the transformation network identified that as few as 5% of local authorities had attempted to implement automation.
This means that the majority of local authorities should still be considering how and when to address these challenges, including implementing ‘new’ technologies as part of a move to customer-centric services.
It is vital that they do not just go for the quick win e.g. add AI on top of legacy IT, as the process is unlikely to have been designed from a customer perspective and will in all probability fail to meet customers’ needs - which could actually generate additional work for the organisation, rather than reduce it.
Why Is Adopting Technologies Across Councils So Challenging?
Assessing the value and then adopting relevant new technologies across a local council’s eclectic range of services, with countless touch-points throughout a customer’s life, is complex.
The process and information needed to manage a cremation is vastly different from what is needed to complete a planning application and approval, furthermore, maintaining a social care record is fundamentally different from collecting business rates payment. Typically each service has a very specific application to manage these processes.
The IT landscape and application portfolio for a local authority is unusually large. For a small district there are typically around 100 business applications / systems, whilst for a larger unitary authority there could be as many as 1,000.
This can cause organisations to be constrained by the weight and complexity of their applications estate and be stuck with traditional access channels. In a modern world, this constrains councils from providing joined up services which customers can access and self-serve via a transactional website and mobile devices. It also limits the ability to adopt and innovate with automation and robotics (AI) which is the evolutionary progression from customer self-service.
What Should Councils Be Doing?
In line with many other businesses, local authorities have been product-focused rather than customer-focused and are now looking to change this. They have also perhaps been too focused on ‘saving costs’ rather than increasing value with the limited budgets available to them.
Local government leaders need to understand the challenges around designing services and solutions from the customer’s perspective and make sure that they have a suitable technology environment, rather than just adopting new technologies such as AI in parallel. There is a considerable risk of embarrassing mistakes or introducing service failure and therefore unnecessary work if they are hasty to implement self-service and automation.
Where local councils have been successful with self-service and automation (AI) they have identified and realised economies of scale and, vitally, have simplified and modernised their IT landscape and IT delivery. This has facilitated a more joined up customer-centric experience, which has derived both service improvement, technology simplification and cost reductions.
Local councils need a clear and forward-looking technology strategy, aligned to well-formed transformation programmes. The technology strategy should provide the tools to simplify, integrate and enable, whilst transformation must be driven with the customer in mind. The key activity needed is for local government leaders to understand more about their existing IT functions and how these will need to transform to allow technology to play a meaningful role in service delivery innovation and driving better value for residents, visitors, businesses and all other customers.
At Coeus we provide support to Councils on their transformation journey.
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