How relevant is technology to the future of local government? And how can they make sure it’s not ‘technology for technology’s sake’ and has a direct, positive impact on the communities they serve?
I was privileged to hear a group of passionate and visionary local government leaders consider exactly this at a recent roundtable event to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by greater digitisation.
We considered the ways in which a digital approach could truly flourish in local government, not just in the traditional sense of using IT to speed up systems and processes, but in delivering and protecting their services for the future, and improving the experience of their citizens.
Identify the need before ‘thinking IT’
We reached the conclusion that technology can help in the most unexpected ways if you have the vision. One forward-thinking authority has invested in a network designed to allow devices to communicate wirelessly over a long range, opening up opportunities for bin sensors to tell environmental waste teams when they’re nearly full. The idea being that there would be fewer wasted journeys so teams could be more efficient. Plus of course, the psychological and physical benefits to the community of being in a clean, litter-free environment.
It doesn’t take someone with IT knowledge to recognise a community or service need - staff in local authorities across the country will know areas they’d like to improve, from processing benefits applications to licences and trading standards. However it does, perhaps, take someone with technological expertise to recognise there’s a potential solution rather than accepting things as they are.
Think digital throughout every department
This is why so much of the roundtable discussion focused on the importance of having a digital approach which is central to the entire organisation’s aims and vision.
We agreed this requires two significant culture shifts – firstly in recognising that systems are about people rather than being the preserve of the council’s tech teams: we all live and breathe technology every day and can see how developments such as artificial intelligence, analytics, automation and voice assistants enhance how we live.
The second culture shift is about no longer considering IT companies to be simply suppliers who provide a particular product to fix a particular problem. We discussed how local authorities needed to select an IT company as an IT partner, to work in collaboration to help meet their vision and aims for the future.
Identify and unlock income streams
Technology partners could particularly support with strategies to generate additional income as more and more councils focus on increasing revenue to help maintain, protect and improve their services. They could work with teams to identify opportunities and devise innovative technology pathways to ensure the council benefits from the increased income, without a knock-on effect on staff resource.
One particularly thought-provoking idea to come out of the roundtable was the suggestion of a change in the procurement of IT services to achieve this.
This would mean councils seeking a long-term relationship with a trusted IT partner so they can work together to really think outside the box.
This collaboration could then support them to improve customer experience, help with the efficient delivery of services, and make our communities better places to live in.