Over half (58%) of local authorities are now providing shared services, in order to reduce costs and drive improved citizen engagement, according to new figures
Obtained by a Freedom of Information request from Dell Boomi – issued to 40 UK local authorities, with 24 responding – the new data reveals a growing investment in technology from councils. Nearly three quarters (71%) are committed to investing in tech such as artificial intelligence (AI), improved web and mobile services and digital self-services to improve citizen services.
This is around a year after the government launched its Local Digital Declaration – a set of “guiding principles” that will help local authorities deliver digital services and platforms that meet the needs of citizens. From fixing ‘plumbing’ to redesigning services and sharing information across authorities, the declaration had reached nearly 150 signatories in February, all of which will have committed to digital projects for them to carry out in the following 12 months.
Some of those projects will include shared services. One such example is Doncaster Council’s plans to bring together multiple separate education and social care case management systems into a single record for those who need support.
Shared services investment on the rise
While not all councils could provide this data, spending on shared services has increased over the last five-year period, as the local authorities seek to consolidate wider IT spend. Between 2014/15 and 2018/19, total annual spend on shared services nearly doubled on average per local authority – from £433,822.67 to £816,189.60.
Shared service spending reached its peak between 2015/16 – hitting £1,129,420 per local authority – but this spend rapidly decreased in the subsequent years. This is perhaps following initial capital investment, with councils now benefiting from reduced operational expenditure on a longer-term basis.
Typical services now share range from network infrastructure – such as virtual local area networks (VLANs) – to back-office software such as telephone and helpdesk systems, social care casework systems and online parking application systems. Such deployments distribute the expenditure between local authorities, enabling them to procure better quality tech to deliver a smoother experience for users.
“This investment in collaboration is absolutely a step in the right direction. To deliver such cost-effective shared services requires open IT systems and secure, seamless integration between those systems,” according to Derek Thompson, VP of EMEA for Dell Boomi. “With this architecture in place, councils can work together to deploy new technology, reduce costs and reach the outcomes they’re seeking to deliver for citizens, faster.”
“The maintenance and improvement of citizen services – such as housing, school systems, waste management and home care services – is of vital importance to communities. Yet, the ability to check status updates or get access to information via digital channels has often fallen behind the standard expected,” Thompson added.
Investing in the future
Councils understand the requirement to deliver first-class user experience and have plans to deploy technology to enable this. Half (50%) of councils are seeking to improve their website, with digital self-services (29%), analytics (17%) and AI (17%) marked as key areas for investment. That said, nearly one in three (29%) of councils had no firm plans to deploy any additional technology.
“We are in an unprecedented era of uncertainty with austerity, Brexit and the country’s leadership in flux. English councils have even been warned by the Local Government Association that they could run out of cash reserves. It is this pressure that is driving councils to look for new and improved ways to deliver services, with digital transformation underpinning much of this change,” Thompson said.
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