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The Local Digital Declaration is a big step in the right direction

The local government minister, Rishi Sunak, has recently announced a new digital pledge, designed to help local councils further transform their digital services. The aim of this new initiative is to change the way in which local authorities invest in technology and share expertise as well as to ensure that citizens receive the best quality digital services. So far over 50 councils, partner organisations and government departments have signed up to the Local Digital Declaration, which lays out a common vision for the future of local services.

In his speech to the Local Government Association Annual Conference last week, announcing the local digital declaration initiative, Rishi Sunak said “It’s clear that technology is already transforming public services, offering real benefits to local government employees, the general public and the council’s bottom line… An understanding of digital is no longer something we can leave solely to the IT department. It doesn’t belong in the basement; it belongs in the boardroom.

Digital transformation must be driven from the top

This is a sentiment that we at Abavus can’t agree with strongly enough. We work with many, many local authorities. In our experience, the most successful ones are those with a clear digital transformation strategy driven from the top of the organisation. Those that have managed to move away from a siloed IT approach with heavy reliance on inflexible legacy systems, towards a much more flexible and agile modular approach.

Rishi Sunak emphasised how important it is that local government provides its citizens with genuinely first class digital services: services that focus on meeting the needs of their users, in line with the quality and functionality that users expect based on their digital interactions with commercial organisations. This is something that we’ve been talking to our clients about and writing about for some time now. Back in 2016 I wrote about how important it was for public sector organisations to acknowledge that citizens’ expectations are being driven by their digital interactions with commercial organisations. Local government digital services can no longer afford to be second rate. Citizens, quite rightly, expect more.

Mobile access to services is essential

Local authorities need to think about how their services can be designed and delivered in ways that fit in with how staff and citizens actually live their lives. That means a move towards the use of mobile devices, platforms that enable 24-hour access, convenience and accessibility.

Another critical point is that “users” here doesn’t just mean citizens, it also means staff. Digital transformation isn’t just about making life easier for your customers. It’s also about making life easier for your staff – something else that we’ve been emphasising for a long time now. Take a look at this blog post from 2014, in which I talked about the benefits of digital mobile working technology for staff efficiency, effectiveness and morale.

The benefits of digital transformation for the bottom line are well known – Camden Council found that every face to face transaction in a council building cost them £14, compared to £4 for a telephone transaction and 30p for an online transaction. By moving transactions online, it was able to save £3million over 3 years.

Many of the costs of non-digital transactions are hidden. For example, the cost of staff time associated with administering non-digital processes. We’ve worked with numerous councils to enable them to realise the benefits of the end-to-end digitisation of processes such as waste management, food safety inspections and environmental services. The efficiency gains are clear. As an example, Stafford Borough Council has identified that it will be able to double the number of food safety inspections that its EHOs can do in a day through use of a mobile working app that removes the need for them to return to base between each inspection and massively reduces the amount of manual data entry associated with the process.

A move away from ‘line of business’ systems

In his speech, Rishi Sunak also talked about the importance of ‘fixing the digital plumbing’ by moving away from a dependence on ‘black box’ siloed proprietary systems, each designed to do one thing and one thing only. This legacy approach leads to massive inefficiencies as numerous different systems need to be maintained, each requiring separate skills and approaches. It also hinders flexibility and communication between departments and means that citizens don’t get a properly ‘joined up’ service from their council, instead needing multiple accounts with different systems in order to manage the different aspects of their relationship with the Council, rather than being able to do everything they want to do, quickly and easily via one app or one website.

Whilst on the surface different departments might have different needs, when you dig into it most local government processes share numerous similarities. For example, whilst on the surface revs and bens and adult social care may look completely different, underneath they share common elements – workflow management, case management, the need to manage payments and so on. Likewise, the same core technology that could be used to run food safety inspections could also be used to run more or less any other regulatory process. This is the approach that underlies all of our My Council Services modules. Our clients tend to start with a single application – waste management, food safety inspections, streetscene – and quite quickly realise that the same core technology that is working well for them in one area of the council can also be used to enable the same benefits in other areas too.

Local government IT must adopt a modular approach

Fixing the digital plumbing means moving away from IT silos towards a more modular approach. This modular approach is something that Abavus has been advocating for a long time now. A couple of years ago now I wrote about the importance of local authorities moving away from vendors that focus solely on line of business applications. The benefits are numerous.

Modules can be built to a common standard, slotted in, swapped out and upgraded as required without needing a ground-up rebuild every time a change is needed. There are obvious cost savings to be had as the Council no longer has to maintain diverse legacy systems with no common elements. There are efficiency gains to be had as data sharing becomes easier, and the IT team can deploy a common set of skills across numerous systems. And of course there’s a massive gain in terms of flexibility and agility, with systems easily being more widely deployed once they’ve been proved successful in one area.

The Local Digital Declaration states “Great work has already been done to transform our services using digital tools and technology. But we have an opportunity to do more.” At Abavus we couldn’t agree more. Talk to us today about how we can help your organisation transform its services.

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