Digital transformation: reshaping local councils

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Despite budget cuts and labor shortages, local councils need effective digital transformation to adapt to new policies and processes

Legacy technology is just one of the challenges hindering digital transformation in local councils and government. Although a lack of funding also has a significant impact on the ability to attract qualified professionals, it results in a significant skills gap in the sector. Despite the need for local government services, it has seen huge cuts in its central government grant over the past ten years. As a £2.4billion rise in inflationary costs threatens many English councils to declare bankruptcy, writes Mark Gannon, director of client solutions at Netcall.

The public sector has always been a laggard when it comes to adopting technological advancements, and local governments are no exception. This is partly due to the complexity of the services they provide and the glut of legacy apps that stifle transformation. However, the pandemic has been a huge catalyst for digital transformation in local government, and we have seen good examples of local authorities responding quickly. South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council transformed more than 90 internal processes in 18 months, to help streamline test and trace and hardship support, while saving £450,000 to two tips. But now is the time to keep the momentum going and join a conscious transformation revolution that drives the nation’s digital ambition. So how do you achieve digital transformation?

Create the right strategies and solutions

I believe there are five key criteria that allow councils to digitize while delivering a quick return on investment, reducing costs and improving citizen services:

A dedicated partner

Don’t underestimate the value of a digital transformation partner dedicated to helping boards achieve impactful results. Such a partner can use proven expertise to meet its challenges. Because these providers care about council outcomes, they are always looking for innovative ways to help councils improve citizen services and reduce costs.

An integrated, value-added and flexible low-code platform

The right solution must be flexible, integrated and offer substantial added value in a short period of time. Rather than having hundreds of disparate apps that can’t work together, a low-code platform integrates with all systems and enables councils to extract more value from their digital solutions. Data can flow freely, enabling true end-to-end experiences for citizens.

Councils and local authorities can use low-code to build complete apps 3-10 times faster than standard development. Its integration capability combined with RPA and AI tools unleashes scalable intelligent automation capabilities and delivers rich data insights. This data can be used to forecast citizen needs, improve services and optimize processes, increase efficiency and ease 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 requests.

At every step of the automation journey, local councils see higher returns on investment, more savings and better services to their citizens. Savings can be redirected towards more technology investment, creating a positive feedback loop or benefiting the bottom line – in either case, local authorities are winners and citizens are the beneficiaries.

A profitable model

A licensing model for a solution that allows councils to build and expand digitization as much as they want without any additional cost can provide a cost saving model. This puts the digital transformation journey in the hands of the councils. With more autonomy, local authorities can update their own applications to adapt to new policies and processes, avoiding the additional costs of traditional providers.

With the right low-code solution, total cost of ownership is reduced and ROI is increased as more applications are built. As councils use low-code to build modern digital apps, they are able to decommission expensive legacy apps, saving money on licensing and maintenance. Croydon Council, for example, saved £1.5m a year just by decommissioning a legacy app.

Autonomy training

To effectively take control of digitization, councils need a partner who provides quality training, making low-code development accessible to council employees who may lack development experience.

In a shining example, a council employee went from measuring beach erosion to becoming a senior member of the central digital team.

With quality training and development, existing municipal employees can start building apps in days.

Facilitate collaboration

The right partner will foster collaboration between and within local government councils. Such a partner:

• Creates an ongoing dialogue between the board and the partner, so that the partner understands the goals of the board and can work with them to achieve the goals.
• Promotes opportunities for application sharing and communication between councils. Adur & Worthing Councils, for example, created and shared an app to refer people outside medical practices to non-medical community services, saving GPs valuable time. These editable, pre-built applications save development time and accelerate return on investment.
• Enables organizations to involve non-IT workers in the development process. This encourages collaboration and innovation and empowers the IT team to manage governance and complex issues.

Providing the best citizen experience is the goal

The best solution will allow municipalities to maximize the positive changes for the citizen. If a solution doesn’t do this, then it’s not the right solution. As a former local government IT director with direct experience of solving these problems without the right tools, I know that the best combination of solution and partnership can make all the difference, which translates into the ‘self-sufficiency advice and a cost-effective domain solution.

While it is also important to note that there is an increase in citizen demand for online services, and not providing them or ensuring they are fit for purpose risks undermining public perception of local authorities. The results I’ve seen show the awesome power of low-code for the local government sector when quality is paired with ambition.

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