Growing power in the public’s hands with connected technologies  

Sam Orton, transformation accounts, business development manager at Yotta explores how public sector organisations are adapting their customer experience to suit the needs of the public – delivering a new generation of digital engagement.
Over the past few years, the average citizen’s expectation of what constitutes service delivery excellence has changed completely.
The success of Amazon, whose focus on next-day and even same-day shipping, is now being replicated by a growing number of online retailers is a case in point.
Consumers have become used to this level of engagement from the organisations with which they interact and increasingly that expectation is putting pressure on hard-pressed councils to also raise their game.
While this trend was in place before the pandemic, the advent of Covid-19  has only served to accelerate it.
Over the past year, the way society communicates has changed completely. We have seen many councils moving their meetings online during the pandemic. Moreover, the public increasingly uses video collaboration tools like Zoom or Teams in their everyday lives to interact with colleagues, family and friends. So, this form of interaction is now second nature.
As a result, the public increasingly expects to be able to deal with organisations in a simple, immediate and direct way.
Moreover, they want to be kept informed about what is available through council websites, portals, mobile apps and social media. More than ever, we are seeing growing pressure on councils to deliver that capability to local residents effectively and efficiently.
The vast majority of councils are well aware of this. They have known for some years that digital transformation is the way forward.
For some councils, a conservative risk-averse culture has held the process back, however, some authorities have been daunted by the potential complexity of any change and failed to understand or to be convinced about the benefits it could deliver.
Yet, those who have been slowest at adopting new digital technologies and stuck with predominantly paper-based processes have struggled most during the pandemic and ongoing recovery.
Their back-end processes were often overly complex or fragmented.
Work instructions and emails frequently had to be issued physically to operations teams whenever a resident reported an issue or signed up for a service, making social distancing for staff needing to collect work instructions difficult to achieve.
As the recovery from the pandemic continues and the work from home culture persists, maintaining such an approach is increasingly untenable for councils.
Local authorities that have put digital technologies in place have fared much better. Many of these have looked to move older on-premise-based legacy and back-office systems online, ensuring that data is available to more people across the council and providing mobile capability to operational staff out in the field has helped them deliver a better more agile service to the public.
Efficient and effective integration is the key here.
Legacy systems aren’t able to support the capabilities now required to integrate back office to front-facing systems as effectively as needed.
That’s in stark contrast to the latest modern systems where the application programming interface (API) has been designed as a core component and facilitates much more powerful and rich integrations of data.
Some councils have so far been reticent to move this on a further step. This is in part due to a conservative attitude to change.
Concern about having the funds in place to take this digital transformation beyond siloed instances is, however, also playing a part. That’s concerning because by implementing connected asset management and service technology organisation-wide, councils can significantly enhance the quality of service offering they provide the public and deliver operational efficiencies that translate into financial benefits over time.
This kind of capability is also going to become increasingly important in the future as councils look to deliver multi-channel citizen engagement. Interacting with the public on each individual’s terms using the communication method that suits them best, whether that be mobile phone call, text message, chatbots, or social media platform, for example.
Finding a way forward
Delivering this kind of efficient and effective service end-to-end relies as much on getting the right back-office systems in place as it does on seamlessly providing ‘front-end’ interaction with citizens.
The key to this lies with modern, open APIs and their ability to integrate all data rather than a limited subset determined by suppliers.
With modern, open APIs, all data can be accessed and integrated, which, in turn, helps meet the higher expectations and demands of the public to interact in richer ways with their councils, assets and services.
The latest connected asset management technology delivered in the cloud is fundamental to councils’ success in this context. On the one hand, such technology can deliver rich functionality in terms of councils connecting different elements of their services: engineers and inspectors in the field with back office administrative staff, for example.
On the other, it can also help the public report issues about potholes on local streets, loose drainage covers, uneven pavements or broken street lights but also gain access to all the latest service information including whether their issue has been resolved through the use of open application programming interfaces (APIs).
That’s vital in ensuring councils can bring together a wide range of systems to make a broad spectrum of information easily available to the public, and deliver a joined-up user experience.
After all, if councils have systems with open APIs in place, it is easy for them to connect with other systems and through such an approach make key information publicly available and keep citizens informed through a variety of channels.
As we look to the future, councils will need to become increasingly aware of the growing power in the public’s hands in terms of their ability and propensity to use the latest digital technologies to engage with them and expect and demand ever-higher service levels.
Those councils that have online capability and mobile systems, and technology that provides the ability to communicate and collaborate and integrate to deliver a richer service experience will be more agile and better able to deliver this level of engagement.
Moving forwards, more councils will realise that to deal more effectively with the crisis and move forward positively after it abates, they will need to have the latest connected digital technologies in place and use them to take advantage of the next waves of innovations and capabilities as and when they come on stream.


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