Overcoming the fear of local government digital transformation

local government digital transformation
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Glen Ocsko, head of local government at Made Tech, discusses why local council departments do not need to live in constant fear of technological innovation

Like me and a pair of comfortable old shoes, local government is a sector that has long struggled to move on to better things when it comes to digital transformation. The old solutions somehow seem more comfortable, more familiar and more reliable, despite all evidence to the contrary; this is as true for me replacing my old shoes as for local authorities replacing legacy tech and implementing new solutions.

We continue to see examples of councils having to use outdated software and platforms, despite more modern solutions being available. A recent investigation found a majority of public sector organisations and local government authorities were using outdated ERP software, and a report from Reform highlighted concerns about poor resilience when it comes to cybersecurity.

Why have local authorities struggled to let go of legacy solutions and embrace innovation and new practices?

It’s a huge question with no easy answer but, in my experience, many working in local government bodies are open to change and willing to implement new technologies but are hesitant to take that first step. Whether it is concerns about financial exposure, risks around implementation and rollout, or merely inertia within services themselves which have built processes around legacy platforms, the fear can be real.

There can be multiple reasons for this fear, of course. Local authorities are under constant scrutiny from their constituents and local media to ensure they are running effectively and that taxpayer’s money is being well utilised. If anything goes wrong, such as a new digital solution being put in place that is deemed in any way less effective than that it is replacing, they are likely to be called out for it by the press and public alike.

At the same time, local authorities have the added pressure of ensuring everything they do is cost-effective and producing a return on investment. With budgets continuing to be cut, something which will inevitably be exacerbated by the pandemic, IT departments can be hesitant to implement new solutions without stringently reviewing every detail to ensure it will produce value for money, meaning many will judge it is safer simply to play it safe with what they have.

The other potentially fear-inducing concern is the risk of being tied down to a provider. Vendor lock-in is real, and many Councils have experienced pain in the past from putting in place a platform that they thought would bring benefits but instead found themselves trapped in a long-term contract with a provider who’s software may not be producing the results they expected; leaving them spending already limited resources with no way of exiting the agreement.

These concerns are all perfectly legitimate and it’s understandable why many local government bodies may be hesitant to embrace new technologies and prefer to hold on to the safety of platforms they know and trust. However, these fears are leaving councils vulnerable and holding them back from putting in place solutions that could produce huge benefits to themselves and constituents, including cost reductions, enhanced security of sensitive public information and, most importantly, improved public services.

If these fears are to be conquered it requires bravery, vision and ambition, and often needs just a single department to lead by example. Local authorities have multiple internal bodies, each managing their own systems and processes; some estimate that the 600 or so services provided by some councils might make use of 450 or more different software platforms, applications or systems.

Despite their diverse portfolios, each directorate does look to each other to see what’s working well and to learn from the positive changes peers in other departments have made to produce benefits. If digital transformation is to be seen across a council, one single directorate, department, service or team needs to take the first step and make a change, such as upgrading legacy technology or implementing a new platform. If they do this well, choosing a solution that makes improvements such as increasing ROI or improving service user outcomes will, like a domino effect, encourage other departments to follow, and digital transformation will be easier to spread across the entire authority.

Often, councils will need support in taking this first step towards digital transformation; it is rare that deep, extensive digital transformation expertise is lying dormant and unused within existing resources. It is at this point where they come to a fork in the road. Take the path most trodden and purchase a similar solution that might ruffle less feathers but will not deliver the tangible benefits they seek, and will, certainly leave them tied to long-term contracts that hampers future transformation; or find a solution and partner that puts both the needs and future aspirations of the council and its residents at the centre of the change with open source and modern solutions. If bodies choose a partner that meets these criteria, they will quickly see positive results while at the same time dispelling the fears of digital transformation previously mentioned.

We continue to stride forward into an increasingly digitised world and local government authorities cannot afford to be left behind. Councils and their internal bodies need to overcome their fear of change and the potential risks involved in implementing new solutions. This requires departments to grab the bull by the horns and by making sure they work with the right digital partners, so they can act as a shining light to others, creating better, more efficient local authorities that benefit constituents and staff alike.

Like me replacing my old, comfortable but worn-out shoes, it might be surprising how far and how fast a new pair of shoes and a little bit of transformation can help you run.


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