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Summer reflections on the local government IT landscape

I always think that the summer holiday period is a good opportunity to lift your head up from the day-to-day madness and reflect on the working year so far. It’s a time also to recharge your batteries, recalibrate and realign company activities, and regroup and reboot with equally refreshed colleagues for a big push for the last few months of the business year.

Back in January I published a post entitled Five things that the 2015 local authority IT market taught us – lessons for 2016 and beyond. In that I wrote about what I considered to be the five most pressing strategic issues facing the software IT vendors and buyers in 2016. With that January post in mind, I’ve been reflecting on the themes that I’ve seen in local government transformation projects during the  year to date.

Customer experience – the move towards a single account

Many local authorities have already launched mobile-friendly, easy-to-navigate, fully-branded web sites with responsive eform capabilities that are really improving the customer experience and reducing the burden on back office staff. It’s all really good activity, but what’s the next strand to enhance that customer journey that will get customers locked into using online services for their local authority transactions every time?

It’s been really clear in the conversations we’ve been having that there’s a significant move towards developing single accounts for customers. More of the projects that we’re engaged in now include the requirement for a single customer account. What this means in practice is that when a citizen wants to transact with their local authority, whatever the nature of that transaction, they can log on once in a single location to conduct all transactions or view information. It’s even possible now to enable citizens to log into to a local authority portal via their Facebook account.

In January I wrote about consolidation of IT architecture and this is really important in the context of a single account. It’s commonly the case that customers have to log on to multiple different systems for each interaction they have with the council. Fly tipping is reported in one system. Planning applications are viewed in another. Council tax balances have to be checked in a third. Each time, the customer has to log onto a different system, authenticate their identity separately. In contrast, a single account means citizens can log into a single local authority application and conduct all their transactions there. To the citizen it appears like one seamless application whilst behind the scenes there needs to be some heavy duty IT lifting to ensure that all of the council’s diverse systems are effectively integrated.

A single account is where the smart councils are heading now and the rest need to be and its what vendors need to be able to deliver. Oh and by the way it all needs to be completely secure!

Master data management – achieving a single customer view

Another common theme in the meetings I’m have with customers these days is the idea of master data management (MDM) in the context of digital transformation. At Abavus we call MDM ‘the single source of the truth’ and much of our work is geared towards helping local government organisations achieve the co-ordination across different departments and business applications that is needed in order to generate a consolidated and cleansed dataset giving a single view of customer that the council can then use proactively to enhance performance and drive efficiency.

The challenge here is that master data managements means different things to different people. We often find that different stakeholder groups have radically different ideas about both what master data management is and how to achieve it. Sadly it’s also common to see the technical MDM debate getting overtaken by internal politics and a reluctance to share data, and I’ve witnessed a few examples of projects that did not get off the ground for this reason alone. Thankfully these conversations are maturing and more of these projects are getting off the ground.

Getting smarter – predictive analytics

Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had this year are about how progressive local authorities can use predictive analytics within their business areas, something that really requires effective master data management in order to be viable. Once a local authority has consolidated its IT architecture and achieved a clean and consolidated single view of customer then to start using predictive analytics to leverage that data is the next logical step.

Local authorities have a whole host of questions that they want answered. What percentage of families in our area are likely to be in crisis within the next three years? Which citizens are most likely to default on their council tax payments? Where are cars most likely to be abandoned? Where and what will the demand for social care services be over the next 12 months and beyond and which households are going to have the greatest need for these services?

Predictive analytics can help local authorities use their data proactively to answer these kinds of questions, enabling them to plan their activities and allocate resources effectively. I need to stress that these kinds of projects are in their infancy, but the number is increasing. The drive towards predictive analytics  is definitely gathering momentum.

Protecting reputation – security

The secure protection of digital information not a new issue – it’s a prerequisite for any organisation these days. However, in the local authority space issues such as those experienced at Lincolnshire Council earlier in the year bring the issue of digital security to the fore. Over the last twelve months it is fair to say that local authorities are putting a much greater emphasis on the depth and breath of the security standards that they expect. For suppliers, particularly the smaller entrants to the market, security has to be as important a consideration as the application that they are selling.

The flexible workforce – mobile working

We’ve written about mobile working before on this blog, and about the increase in demand for products and applications that facilitate mobile working for government and local authority employees. The story here is that demand for mobile working is accelerating at a phenomenal pace. Having seen mobile working success in high volume transactional areas such as environmental services, local authorities are now confidently assessing the business areas where more complex transactions are undertaken and considering how mobile working can be applied to them.

I hope your holidays were enjoyable like mine and that this piece is worth a read as you bed back in for the final quarter of the year.

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