With the increasing pressure on local authority budgets and resources, the local government landscape looks set for a year in which digital transformation will, and should, play an important part.
Why do I say this? Because it’s now widely accepted that technology offers the single most cost- and resource- effective way to meet the challenges ahead whilst balancing the need to sustain high quality services.
In particular, I believe there are five key areas where technology will lead to a seismic shift in how local authorities operate. Indeed, some of these technologies have already started to be introduced, but my prediction is that they’ll move from being the preserve of early adopters to becoming the accepted norm across much of local government.
Prediction 1: Robotics will be accepted as the way forward
Robotic Process Automation, where artificial intelligence can ease the pressure on many everyday tasks, has already started to be introduced, for example in the area of revenues and benefits where we’ve been working with councils to ease the workload so that their staff can focus on more complex tasks.
I believe the use of automation will spread to many other areas of local authority jurisdiction, as senior leaders see more and more evidence of the benefits and cost efficiencies and lead the push to drive automation across their organisation.
Prediction 2: A single view of each citizen will be essential to informed decision-making
Arguably the most significant development will be the move towards consolidating information to provide a single view of a citizen so that all the information the authority holds about a person is joined together and held in one place.
This is important not just because it would make all back-office processes more effective - although it would certainly achieve that, by removing all the confusion and time-thirsty issues associated with duplication. The true value of the single citizen view, however, is about enabling local authorities to be much more proactive in providing services to citizens as they would have an overall view of which support and services are needed and could act more quickly to address those needs.
From talking with chief executives last year, I know there’s an appetite to pursue this single view, notwithstanding the cultural and technological challenges that lie ahead. For example, within most local authorities there are some 300 to 400 different software applications in use, of which approximately 10% are classed as ‘business critical’. With such huge amounts of data spread out across different systems, supplied by often-competing software providers, the challenge is to bring this together to provide one meaningful record. Officers would then be able to analyse information and spot trends which will have an impact on the future of the activities they provide, so they could make more informed decisions about where to target resources.
Prediction 3: Analytics will be key to preventing ‘the inevitable’
Once a single view of each citizen is available, bringing together information from all the different local authority departments, predictive analytics will reveal the stories behind people’s lives so that services and support can be targeted to prevent a negative outcome happening in the first place.
For example, if social care and NHS information are joined into a single view, proactive intervention could be taken to prevent A&E beds being taken up by someone who would be better cared for with appropriate social care. The trickle-down benefit of this has the potential to save millions of pounds.
This technology can also help prevent people becoming homeless - by overlaying analytics with information on education, health issues and housing, the story of how that person became homeless can be revealed. We can learn from this to put support in place next time before it happens, potentially transforming a person’s life to a much happier future.
Prediction 4: Citizen preferences will drive how authorities provide services
Channel shift may no longer be a new idea, but the way local authorities are responding to it is evolving. Up until now, channel shift has primarily been about moving services online so that staff can perform their jobs more easily. Looking to the near future, councils will be focused much more on the customer experience, taking into account how citizens choose to interact with retail and private services, such as using apps on smartphones and sourcing information via virtual assistants.
Prediction 5: The Internet of Things will come into its own
Despite there being great excitement about the potential of smart homes, the reality is that the Internet of Things (IoT) has had a slow start. Not only did it look as if it was always going to be prohibitively expensive, but there have also been concerns about privacy – not everyone feels comfortable having a sensor in their home.
However, we’re now seeing a dramatic drop in costs, particularly when the technology is applied to a large number of homes at the same time, in the way that social landlords are able to do. Alongside this I think we’ll also see a big cultural shift in how people welcome the technology. From sensors which predict when a boiler needs servicing to monitoring damp in homes more effectively, the IoT will be accepted as a feasible solution which helps protect people whilst making their homes more comfortable.
In short, I see 2018 as being the year when these technologies will start enabling local authorities to achieve their core aim of supporting communities, as well as to meet their financial targets, providing tools for councils to deliver services in the most effective way possible, alongside the insight they need to support the most vulnerable in society.