Steve White, head of transformation accounts for Yotta, writes on how local authorities can engage with the public through the pandemic and beyond.
We have seen significant changes in the way the public has been using council assets since lockdown. The increase in waste and recycling being collected from homes has been well documented, and some councils have reported an increase in demand for dog bins. While many parks closed down in the early stages of lockdown, others have more recently reported increases in footfall. With people restricted in their movements in the early days of lockdown, motorway usage was harder hit than usage of local roads. With the re-starting of schools, colleges and universities, together with infrastructure changes being made to facilitate greater cycling and walking, we are seeing the pattern and usage of our roads change.
How digital technology keeps councils ahead of the game
All this change has been unpredictable and patterns of future usage are likely to be even more difficult to forecast accurately. This has led to a growing need for services to be delivered in an agile manner and for the public 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.
In that sense, the pandemic has shone a light on the difference between councils who have digital technologies and agile working practices in place, and have consequently thrived in these times compared to those who have remained wedded to paper and traditional manual ways of working.
The latter group have struggled to deal with the impact of the pandemic most. Back-end processes are overly complex or fragmented. Work instructions and emails frequently have to be issued to operations teams whenever a resident reports an issue or signs up for a service, making social distancing for staff needed to collect work instructions difficult to achieve.
These broken processes typically also slow down the speed at which information is updated across the whole system and made available to residents. Councils may, for example, find it difficult to provide residents with accurate, up-to-date information about the response to service issues they have reported. They might struggle, for instance, to give service updates about issues around leaves blocking drains. Residents increasingly experience these kinds of instant service updates in their daily lives as consumers and they expect the same when engaging with the council too.
Connected asset management and open APIs
Those councils that have switched to digital systems are typically much more able to keep the public updated and informed through these challenging and unusual times.
The latest connected asset management technology delivered in the cloud can be especially key to councils’ success in this context. Not only can this technology deliver flexibility in terms of councils connecting different elements of their services; operatives in the field with back office administrative staff, for example, it can also help the public gain access to all the latest service information through the use of open application programming interfaces (APIs).
After all, if council’s have systems with open APIs, 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. No councils can afford to rest on their laurels in this context.
Public demand for the latest information in the earliest days of the pandemic was naturally strong due to inevitable uncertainty about the status of certain services. Many councils have succeeded through this time by offering a more accessible and transparent service during lockdown and the public will continue to expect this kind of capability in the months and years to come. The use of open APIs will allow this connectivity (incorporating integration with other council systems) to be delivered to the public very easily.
All this provides a further reminder of the benefits the latest digital technologies can bring to councils in delivering services to their residents. The pandemic has brought this into sharper focus. As we continue to navigate through a period where Covid is still a present reality, using the latest technology to drive service agility is going to become more important than ever.
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