We recently conducted some research (download the full research paper to find out more) asking local government professionals to tell us about their experiences of channel shift and digital transformation in the current climate. In particular we were interested to know what barriers they faced when trying to implement digital transformation, and how they saw the future of digital transformation in local government.

The impact of budget cuts on digital transformation

Unsurprisingly, budget came up as a significant issue in many of the responses that we had. Inevitably budget cuts have had a big impact on channel shift activities across local government, with lack of budget and resource coming out as one of the main barriers to effective channel shift in organisations. Many respondents were keen to push forward with channel shift but felt that they lacked the time needed to properly research the options available and develop an effective strategy. Budget and staff cuts have had a big impact and organisations are increasingly expected to do more with less. Clearly, this is a concern.

However, we also found that, despite almost universal acknowledgment that finding budget for channel shift projects is an issue, the majority of respondents to our survey still had access to some kind of dedicated channel shift resource – a person or a team – and almost two thirds had a dedicated budget to support their channel shift activities. This shows that even when budgets are incredibly tight, organisations are recognising the value of channel shift. This certain ties in with a change in thinking that we’ve seen in the time we’ve been working in this field.

Recognition that channel shift is a saving rather than a cost

We work with over 50 local authorities now, helping to support their channel shift and digital transformation activities in a variety of ways, and over the years we’ve seen a real change in how organisations think about channel shift and digital transformation. There was a time when it was common to encounter resistance to such projects on the grounds that the costs would be high and the benefits few. Increasingly, however, organisations understand that, done well, channel shift can both deliver an improved customer experience and also save the organisation money. It’s no longer seen as a trade off between customer experience and cost efficiency. Now it’s possible to have both.

Budget cuts have been a big driver of channel shift activities across the board. More than half the respondents to our survey agreed that budget cuts were one of the main drivers of channel shift in their organisation. The benefits in terms of cost savings generally come in two main ways.

Improved customer experience and flexibility

Firstly, by giving customers more ways to get in touch with local authorities and offering automated processes for standard operations, it’s possible to significantly reduce the number of calls into a call centre. For example, we have many clients who have built apps or online forms that enable citizens to perform activities for themselves that would previously have required a call to a call centre. This frees up resource in the contact centre to focus on more complex enquiries that do require the personal touch, whilst also offering an improved experience to citizens who can interact with the council at the time and place of their own convenience. For example, Torfaen County Borough Council uses a range of different tools from the My Council Services suite of products to offer greater flexibility of contact to its customers through mobile apps and native forms. In this video Rhys Herbert from the Council explains how almost over 30% of transactions are now conducted through its app, meaning that officers can now deal with up to 15 or 20 reports in an hour rather than the 5 of 6 that’s possible when all interactions are conducted over the phone.

Greater efficiency through mobile working

The second way in which digital transformation saves money is through enabling more efficient backend work processes. Many of our customers are using our tools not only for interaction with citizens but to manage interactions between staff members. Mobile working reduces paperwork, cuts the time it takes for staff to perform their jobs, and improves operational efficiency across the board. For example, Cannock Chase District Council is using our Mobile Worker module to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its Street Scene team (Peter Thompson from the Council explains how in this video).

The future of digital transformation

Overall the findings of our research suggest a positive outlook for digital transformation and channel shift in local government. Budget cuts present challenges of course, but an effective channel shift strategy can go a long way to addressing those challenges.