Legacy IT systems are an obstacle to many UK councils in customer service operation, but low-code may be able to advance next-generation digital services
Recent years have seen digital technologies invested in and adopted, across society, at a much faster pace than predicted as a result of the pandemic and consumer demand for digital channels.
However, many organisations are struggling to keep up with demand and digitally transform their services to meet this demand, support innovation, and maintain financial viability. As experienced by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, which saw a 300% increase in demand for web and chat activity as a result of call centre closures during lockdowns and customer demand changing and wanting access to more improved and faster digital public services.
A recent Netcall and Davies commissioned Hayhurst Consultancy study found that 41% of UK councils revealed that legacy IT systems were their number one obstacle to further advancing customer experience.
How legacy IT systems are obstructing digital transformation
Legacy applications refer to sources of information that rely on outdated and often closed technologies. Replacing these systems has been one of the most challenging aspects of digital transformation with 87% of business leaders around the world citing their complexity as a key impediment to adopting next generation digital services.
The complexity, cost and closed nature of legacy systems creates what we have dubbed ‘legacy spaghetti’ and makes it difficult to replace outdated applications. Doing so is often risky, costly and disruptive to business operations, requiring extensive IT intervention. However, the increasing importance of access to this data, held hostage by these outdated systems, to support digital transformation has pushed leaders to look for easier and more cost-effective solutions.
But many public sector leaders are prevented from making the changes they want because legacy vendors make it too hard or expensive, they have concerns about the technical risks of making big changes, and they find it hard to develop solutions themselves. In fact, 49% of UK councils believe they lack the needed technical expertise to develop and implement adequate solutions.
Local government leaders realise access to data in legacy systems is the key that unlocks great digital services. But legacy spaghetti prevents that same trapped data from being extracted from siloed applications and being used to support better digital processes. Without the right technology to connect these siloed systems, it is extremely difficult to share data. This is critical because unleashed data is key to accommodating data-driven quality and personalised customer experiences.
Open data paved the way for Cumbria Council to reduce the handling time of six different processes by 80-90%, freeing employees to deal with high value and more complicated tasks. Between administration and inspection savings, the council managed to save a staggering 3,740 hours per year. Its increased capacity level combined with low-code technology led the council to deliver the UK’s first integrated end-to-end contact trace system, beating the national government system rollout.
Driving transformation whilst avoiding risks and being cost efficient
By using a ‘building block approach’, councils can create integrations to their legacy applications and then gradually replace them, partially or fully, with modern applications, combining process automation technologies like low-code and robotic process automation (RPA). This is intelligent automation delivered in a low-risk and low-cost way.
With these tools, councils have a realistic strategy that recognises the shortcomings of legacy systems and facilitates a way to get these systems to speak to each other so that data trapped in their complex infrastructures can be freed and utilised. This paves the way for low-code enabled intelligent automation processes.
This has enabled councils to rapidly digitally transform their processes. South Hams District Council saved £500,000 in just over 12 months and was able to transform its operations three times faster than its previous systems permitted. Using low-code technology, it managed to overhaul a whopping 90 processes in as little as 18 months.
In addition to being able to work with legacy systems, low-code allows organisations to use their existing workforce’s skills and expertise instead of turning to professional code developers or costly external consultants. This empowers council employees by giving them control over critical local government processes and the ability to develop bespoke applications that put citizens at the heart of delivery.
Councils have the digital autonomy to deliver well-designed and user-centred citizen experiences, taking the burden off their IT team. Once established, councils can incrementally decommission blocks of their legacy systems as they add blocks of more advanced and modern technologies, accommodating an easier transition.
In one instance, Croydon Council had one legacy system that they gradually replaced with a low-code development platform, which allowed them to adjust to the new infrastructure and save a predicted £1 million by the end of the transition.
The future of legacy: using low-code tools and intelligent automation
Councils that have taken the leap and invested in this ‘building block’ strategy have reaped the rewards.
Croydon Council initially began its digital transformation journey by driving the development of digital services to meet the needs of its citizens throughout Covid-19 induced lockdowns. In only 120 hours it developed an app to manage business applications and distribute grant money during the pandemic. Over the course of nine months, Croydon Council managed to build 10 apps offering various critical services and assistance to vulnerable residents. Using its low-code platform, the council paid out over £50 million in government funds to local businesses in as little as six weeks. The council was able to drive digital transformation and support its community while reducing costs, improving operational efficiencies and reducing turnaround times. And the investment continues to pay forward: the council also uploaded the app to a community low-code sharing platform so other councils could offer the same service to their citizens.
The public sector needs to move past legacy systems, and low-code platforms allow councils and other public-facing organisations to build towards this future. Creating and applying solutions on top of existing legacy systems unleashes trapped data and enables its use across all processes. Meaning council employees can use low code tools to build applications and facilitate advanced automation processes. Legacy systems are then dismantled incrementally throughout councils’ digital transformation journeys.
Find out how more councils are driving digital and overcoming obstacles on their automation journeys, banishing ‘legacy spaghetti’ for good.
This piece was written by Mark Gannon, Director of Client Solutions, Netcall
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