The pressure is on to adopt new technologies across the public sector. But so is the need to make sure that every single resource is allocated wisely, making it even more crucial to ensure technology isn’t introduced purely for technology’s sake.
So how can senior leaders across local authorities ensure new IT in their organisation leads to real, lasting outcomes throughout the services and communities they serve?
Disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics, represent huge opportunities to have an impact on citizens’ lives, and the delivery of services, now and in the future.
Our latest white paper Changing lives: bringing disruptive technology to local government offers thoughts on what can be achieved with emerging technologies, alongside a practical guide for senior leaders outlining 4 steps they should take to implement these technologies successfully:
1. Assume the role of visionary…no matter what your level of IT knowledge
As a senior leader, you’re a key influencer in your council. So when it comes to shaping change to support strategies for planning and delivering services, you’re in the best place to engineer a shift in thinking.
Let’s take the example of public bins. It’s a pleasure – uplifting even – to walk down a clean street. But, even with regular collections, the needs of some sites can be difficult to predict. And yet this is an area where technology can provide a simple, highly effective answer – full bin sensors can alert your environmental health team via their mobile, with automation scheduling a collection using the latest GIS route planning tools for minimal impact on resources and a truly positive impact on the community.
This could also be applied to household waste – in a similar way that citizens pay a surcharge for garden waste, they could pay for a sensor in their bin, alerting them by text, email or their virtual assistant that they need to put their bins out, and letting your team know the bin is ready to collect.
So be a curious leader and constantly challenge, and encourage your staff to be curious too, so they feel free to question whether tasks can be done more efficiently, and more effectively. Then make sure these suggestions are acted on.
2. Move to the cloud to truly future-proof your services
The cloud is no longer simply somewhere convenient to store family photos. It’s now the powerful engine behind technologies such as AI, IoT and voice activated devices, transforming their use to so much more than a passing fashion. It’s the cloud that makes it possible for information to be shared securely between multi-agency teams to better support vulnerable people, and allows citizens to access council services from any device.
It’s also the cloud that can streamline your regulatory and licencing services, whilst making them more transparent for the citizens and local businesses that use them. For a milkshake café starting up, a self-service portal could guide the owners through the process of applying for an environmental health inspection, ensuring they’ve covered off requirements such as appropriate planning permission for their premises. A chatbot could provide friendly guidance, directing them to online forms for different departments, such as trading standards, with automated push notifications updating them on the progress of any applications.
Not only would this provide a better customer experience, but by keeping the interaction online, you would also have saved a great deal in terms of staff resource, protecting that service for the future.
So even before you’ve considered the significant cost savings of the cloud vs onsite servers, and the reassurance of business continuity, the case to move to the cloud is highly compelling.
3. Don’t just rely on systems - start a culture shift to really engender change
The only way local authority teams can really make a difference to communities is if they have the whole picture, particularly where there are other services supporting those individuals, perhaps health, police, youth services and other agencies. By knowing more about people’s lives, your staff will be better placed to help them get the help they need, and use less staff time in the process.
Joining up benefits teams with social workers, even as they’re visiting clients, could speed up applications for much-needed funds, whilst using automation to link council tax accounts with school places could streamline the validation of addresses for catchment areas. By having a single view of the citizen, accessible from anywhere with internet access, you can improve the delivery of services and the experience of everyone involved, whilst saving considerably on operational costs.
But sharing information to achieve collaborative working requires breaking down cultural and other barriers, both within your council and externally. As a person in authority, you’re one of the few who can actually make this happen.
4. Bring the vision to life by thinking creatively about your partners
IT is about so much more than the computers we use at work. Current and emerging technologies are proving their vast potential to have a measurable impact on outcomes – something that every local authority needs. For this to happen, it’s time to move away from thinking about ‘IT suppliers’ to viewing these sources of expertise as longer-term, holistic technology partners. Once they understand your aims, strategies and challenges, they can then shape provision and sit at the centre of your operations to deliver your vision.
For example, I’ve mentioned some of the ways you can save on resources, but there are also opportunities to generate additional income. Perhaps you’ve already identified these at a local level but have concerns about taking resources away from core services. Whether this is charging for planning expertise outside of your usual remit of services, or setting up arrangements with other local authorities to subcontract your expert litigation team, the latest technologies can make these processes seamless. An established working relationship with an IT partner who understands exactly how your authority operates can help both identify, and respond to, these opportunities.
For more on how to adopt disruptive technology, read our white paper for senior leaders to see how councils can pave the way for a new generation of technology in local government to ensure they work smarter, rather than harder, to meet the needs of their communities.