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A digital groundwork to enable innovation is essential to councils

John Jervis, sales and marketing director at  IEG4, explains that whatever the future looks like, councils will need to adopt a culture of ongoing iteration and digital groundwork that enables innovation whilst encouraging collaboration.

Plato once said that necessity is the mother of invention – and being inventive is something we have seen again and again in relation to public service provision throughout this year’s crisis.

Undoubtedly, the local authorities that have stood out as exemplars were the ones that were inventive and agile in developing new behaviours and solutions before they needed to be told. However, when we hit the peak over the summer, it became clear that all councils needed to follow suit and boost their digital provision to be able to continue to offer a standard service.

If you look back, before 2020, we were already seeing the beginning of change with respect to sharing systems and software. More and more suppliers were enabling local authorities to create ‘apps’ which they can share with other organisations and to pick and choose ‘apps’ to use which other organisations have created. Commonly known as Local Government as a Platform, or LGaaP.

During the height of the response to the Covid crisis, local authorities were able to collaborate and share developments on new demands for digital solutions. Demonstrating that collaboration meant more innovation.

Underlying all this is the fact that digital transformation is not about technology; it is about a readiness to innovate, deal with cultural change and create new services to cope with emerging challenges. However, digital transformation must draw on the capabilities of technology, and the best customer engagement systems provide an array of capabilities, giving local government great scope to design solutions to those challenges.

Along with this is the increased emphasis on agile development techniques, in which teams do not begin with a detailed specification of the desired solution but identify a desired outcome and develop the solution through a series of iterations. It is about failing fast, establishing what works and moving onto the next stage.

Whilst councils do like to do things their own way, which means there is, inevitably, some reinvention of the wheel going on – it is also true that more and more councils are happy to share. By using the LGaaP Services Directory within our customer portal, councils are able to make forms they’ve built for services available for other councils to see, customise and use.

For example, our own free library of forms numbers around 100, and it is available to all customers on the portal. With the addition of forms created by other councils, this means that, from day one, users have access to a library of in excess of 250 forms.

This really is ‘council in a box’, and represents an opportunity for local authorities to make a step change forward with their digital strategies, wherever they are in the journey. This may be to get started on a coherent digital strategy, or to pull a number of disparate departmental approaches together. It may be to get a head-start on a response to a critical situation. Because not only do councils get access to the forms, but also, because the forms share the same coherence, the same look and feel – it makes it easier for citizens accessing the council to recognise and navigate through a form. And if citizens find it easier to use online services, then digital transformation really does happen.

Whatever the future looks like, local authorities and other service organisations will have to reinvent their roles and focus on different outcomes for the public, with an emphasis on the roots of societal problems. This needs a culture of ongoing iteration that is ready to grasp the opportunities offered by changes in technology. It needs a digital groundwork that is future proofed; one that enables innovation and encourages collaboration.

Photo Credit – Geralt (Pixabay)

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