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When budgets are tight local authorities should look to smaller IT vendors to provide the flexibility they need

All the news at the moment is about how tight budgets are in local government. Several councils have announced their services are going to be cut back to a minimum and more seem set to follow. So, in a minimal spend environment, what happens to investment in IT systems?

IT procurement is often high on the list when councils are looking for areas to make savings. Because of that a lot of councils find themselves increasingly reliant on legacy systems that they can’t change. At the same time of course there’s the push towards digital transformation and channel shift and, as I discussed in my last post, this also offers the possibility of significant cost savings if it’s done right.

However, the days of being able to replaces one’s systems wholesale with a single, big box solution are over. The reality is that most councils will have to keep using at least some of their legacy systems, and so they need to work with IT suppliers who can integrate effectively with these systems rather than replace them.

A complete new contact management system might not be feasible, but perhaps an eforms add on that enables more transactions to be moved online might be possible. Maybe a Council could benefit from the cost saving facilitated by an end-to-end digital waste management process, but only if this integrates with a third party waste contractor’s system.

‘The waste contract is a very big contract and the integration between our system and Veolia’s is a very small part of that, so it might have been difficult to get some suppliers motivated to engage with that, but from Abavus’s point of view it was their complete priority.’

Imran Kazalbash, Services Manager, Southend Borough Council

To get this kind of flexibility councils need to look for smaller, more nimble IT suppliers who offer modular, customisable solutions that can easily be integrated with legacy systems and third party contractors. Traditional, larger manufacturers rarely offer anything like the level of flexibility, customisation and integration that councils need these days. To get it they need to look to smaller suppliers. Suppliers like Abavus.

Our My Council Services system was designed with flexibility in mind from the ground up. We’re working with numerous councils across the country and each implementation is unique to the particular requirement of that council. Traditional large public sector IT suppliers offer standard, big box solutions and any customisation, if it’s possible at all, is expensive and cumbersome. Additionally, such systems tend to be very much ‘all or nothing’ – you have to take the whole system or you don’t get any of it. My Council Services, in comparison, is modular so you can use as much or as little of it as you need.

Generally, what often happens is a council starts out with a small installation in one particular area of its operation – green waste collections, reporting fly tipping, booking collections of bulky objects – and then extends the use of the technology into other areas once the initial project is underway.

‘The success of the green garden waste project has given us real confidence and impetus to expand the My Council Services footprint at Boston with other digital projects that we are soon embarking on.’

Jason Bagley -Technical Project and Development Analyst Boston Council

When you work with big suppliers you often find that you end up being a very small fish in a very big pond. The people who came and pitched the system to you or wrote the proposal aren’t the people who actually end up running your account. You never have any contact with the people who are actually going to be building your system for you. You talk to a different person every time you call. In that kind of set up the incentive for the supplier to offer customisation and flexibility, particularly at an affordable cost, just isn’t there. It’s not what they’re set up to do. This is where smaller suppliers really come into their own.

‘We looked at various vendors in the market but we feel that Abavus and My Council Services are more geared to transformational solutions. We’re also constrained by budget and can get vast amounts of criteria within the MCS solution compared to other options.

Cannock Chase District Council

Working with a smaller supplier means that your particular requirements, the things you need in order to really make your system work for you, aren’t expensive add ons, or things that get added to a development list and take months to materialise. They’re part of the core service. 

‘If we do come across issues with the platform then they’re immediately resolved by the Abavus team. If there are new criteria which we want to use within the platform we will liaise with Abavus and will come up with ways of providing those solutions to the end customer. The relationship we have with Abavus is quite open, quite reactive and quite responsive to our demands.’

Cannock Chase District Council

‘We appointed Abavus on the basis that they did the best demonstration and gave us the impression, which has subsequently come to fruition, that they were happy to work with us in order to develop the system around our specific needs.’

John Edwards, Maidstone Borough Council Street Scene and Waste Officer

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