Despite financial cuts and labour shortages, local councils need effective digital transformation to accommodate new policies and processes
Legacy technology is just one of the challenges hindering digital transformation within local councils and government. While a lack of funding also significantly impacts the ability to attract skilled professionals, resulting in a major skills gap across the sector. Despite the necessity of local government services, it has experienced huge cuts to its central government grant over the past ten years. Whilst a £2.4 billion increase in inflationary costs threatens many English councils to declare bankruptcy, writes Mark Gannon, Director of Client Solutions at Netcall.
The public sector has historically been behind the curve when it comes to the take-up of technological advancements, and local governments are no exception to this. This is partly driven by the complexity of the services they provide and the glut of legacy applications that stifle transformation. However, the pandemic has been a huge catalyst for digital transformation in local government, and we have seen some great examples from local authorities that were quick to pivot. South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council transformed over 90 internal processes within 18 months, to help streamline Test and Trace and hardship relief – whilst saving the two councils £450,000. But now is the time to maintain momentum and join a conscious transformation revolution that drives the nation’s digital ambition. So how do we get digital transformation right?
Creating the right strategies and solutions
I believe there are five key criteria that make it possible for councils to digitalise whilst delivering rapid ROI, saving costs and enhancing services for citizens:
A dedicated partner
Don’t underestimate the value of a digital transformation partner who is dedicated to helping councils deliver impactful outcomes. Such a partner can employ proven expertise to address their challenges. Because these suppliers care about council outcomes, they are always on the lookout for innovative ways to help councils improve services for citizens and reduce costs.
An integrated, value-adding and flexible low-code platform
The right solution must be flexible, integrated, and offer substantial value-add within a short timeframe. Rather than having hundreds of disparate applications that can’t work together, a low-code platform integrates with all systems and allows councils to extract more value from their digital solutions. Data can move freely, enabling true end-to-end experiences for citizens.
Local councils and authorities can use low-code to build full-stack applications 3-10 times faster than with standard development. Its integrative capacity combined with RPA and AI tools unleashes scalable intelligent automation capabilities and delivers rich insights on data. This data can be used to predict citizen needs, improve services and optimise processes, driving efficiency and alleviating the burden on understaffed councils.
Omnichannel delivery can provide seamless interactions with citizens across all communication channels and AI-assisted solutions can streamline services, triage incoming cases and support self-service, so workers can focus on more complex tasks or offline enquiries.
With every step on the automation journey, local councils see higher ROIs, more savings and better services to their citizens. Savings can be repurposed into more tech investments, creating a positive feedback loop or benefit the bottom line – either way local authorities win, and citizens are the beneficiaries.
A cost-effective model
A licensing model for a solution that allows councils to build and expand digitalisation as much as they want without any additional fee can deliver a cost-saving model. This puts the digital transformation journey in the hands of councils. With more autonomy, local authorities can update their own applications to accommodate new policies and processes, avoiding additional fees from legacy vendors.
Through the right low-code solution, total cost of ownership is reduced and return on investment is increased as more applications are built. As councils use low-code to build modern digital applications, they are able to decommission costly legacy applications, saving money on licensing and maintenance. Croydon Council, for example, has saved £1.5 million per year just by decommissioning one legacy application.
Training for self-sufficiency
To effectively take control of digitalisation councils need a partner that offers quality training, making low-code development accessible to council workers who may lack developer experience.
In one brilliant example, a council worker went from measuring beach erosion to becoming a senior member of the central digital team.
With some quality training and development, existing council workers are able to start building applications within days.
The right partner will foster collaboration between and within councils across local government. Such a partner:
• Creates an ongoing dialogue between council and partner, so the partner understands the council’s goals and can work with them to deliver on objectives.
• Fosters opportunities for app sharing and communication across councils. Adur & Worthing Councils, for example, created and shared an app to refer people out of GP surgeries to non-medical community services instead, saving valuable GP time. These modifiable, pre-built apps save development time and make ROIs faster.
• Enables organisations to bring non-IT workers into the development process. This encourages collaboration and innovation and allows the IT team to deal with governance and complex matters.
Providing the best citizen experience is the goal
The best solution will allow councils to maximise positive changes for the citizen. If a solution doesn’t do that, then it’s not the right fit. As a former CIO in local government with first-hand experience trying to solve these problems without the right tools, I know that the best combination of solution and partnership can make all the difference, resulting in self-sufficiency for councils and a cost-effective estate.
While it is also important to note there is an increase in citizen demand for online services, and failing to provide these or not ensuring they are fit for purpose risks damaging the public’s perception of local authorities. The results I’ve seen show the impressive power of low-code for the local government sector when quality is paired with ambition.