Local authorities will need strong leadership to break from traditional mindsets and harness the full potential of technology and data to deliver the council of the future, says Shaping Cloud director of consultancy Helen Gerling.
Technology has now come of age to be able to offer real opportunities for local authorities to transform how they deliver services. Rather than doing the same for less with IT, councils can look at how they can use technology to deliver the outcomes that align to citizens’ growing expectations.
In local authorities, there can be a traditional mindset of using technology to save money by automating existing processes. This can bring short term benefits, but digitisation is different.
Digitisation means doing things differently in light of the technology that is available. This means rethinking what local authorities are trying to achieve, and then looking at how the latest devices and technology can enable them to do these more smartly.
How can we use technology to deliver government as a platform, for example? Not just one that can use a common IT blueprint to more efficiently deliver the same services as others, but one that can empower the citizen to be more engaged with their community. Going right back to exploring the purpose of local government and in some cases providing the information and resources so that government can get out of the way for citizens to do good in their own community. Technology now enables good consultation and voting processes for ideas and plans, enabling citizens to co-design or inform the services they need or desire for their area.
The council of the future might even rethink the role of elected politicians. If we are engaging directly with residents using digital, to ask their opinion, would we need as many people representing them?
Be clever with data and integrate
We need to be smarter with how we use the data we already have. We need to run analytics to start to look at the trends and identify what is going on in our communities, and how people are using services. We can then look at how we design and deliver services that are based around the needs of our citizens and that really get to the root of issues – providing insight on how to prevent them in the first place.
Currently, local authorities collect and process a huge amount of data, but we do it in a siloed way, using disparate business systems. Those systems are built without open APIs, or the ability to write or read data easily. There is no incentive to share information even within a local authority, so integration becomes a barrier to citizen-centred services.
Without that integration, you will not identify potential operational efficiencies, or draw out the insight that will identify where to invest to get the right outcomes.
In the council of the future, good data (clean, accessible, and used) will be an essential part of good service design and delivery. I have seen how good use of data along with predictive modelling can deliver big savings, especially when procuring services.
In the council of the future, information will be shared between departments and organisations for the benefit of individuals so that they can receive the services they need efficiently.
In the council of the future, data will follow the citizen and they will have much better control of who and how their information is shared and used.
For example, when someone leaves a hospital and receives social care in their home, frontline staff will know how they can best support the individual. Family and friends will know how care is being delivered, and be able to be more active participants in that care.
Break down those barriers and embrace change
There will be barriers to overcome, with fears over the change that technology brings. Technology is far less about tin and wires in local datacentres, and more about integrated digital services that enable a more useful, tailored and personalised service for citizens. Ironically, this can often be a bigger change for those that manage the technology than the consumers of technology.
Strong leadership can address this fear by showing people that change is possible. If they can take people on the journey, share the vision, and communicate what change means to them, they can shift people’s thinking. This helps the workforce realise what can be done and what part they can play in it.
Leaders also will be called on to make brave decisions on new technology platforms, such as the cloud. The council of the future will need flexible and scalable infrastructure to move to new service models; cloud technology is that platform.
As stated clearly by Stephen Dobson, interim chief digital officer of Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, “the cloud will happen”.
Delivering the flexibility and efficiency benefits of the cloud requires new ways of thinking and new ways of working. People will look to leaders to champion the use of the cloud to deliver online services that reduce bureaucracy and empower the individual.
We use technology as part of everyday life, and local authorities need to do the same to survive and, if embraced sooner, thrive.
The council of the future will be one that uses technology and data in new ways, and – through strong leadership and a coherent vision – uses those innovations to create smart people-centred public services. The time is now to create that change.