The most important thing to consider when choosing technology in local government

Michael Lonnon

How do local government authorities identify what is the right approach when taking on new technology? What sort of things should they consider?

Before answering this, it’s important to understand WHY an organisation needs new technology before committing to investment. Thinking about the broader strategy is key. It would be a mistake to look at large-scale projects, such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), in isolation. It’s better first to understand the desired outcomes. Consider what challenges you want any new technology to solve and then identify the benefits this will bring. These could be:

  • Saving money
  • Empowering staff
  • Enabling better services
  • Connecting communities to frontline services

A clear idea of what the outcome should be helps pave the way forward. The technology that is then selected and implemented will be channelled towards those outcomes and that vision.

Don’t start with technology. Start with strategy.

Thinking about the future value

Technology is part of the jigsaw, it’s an enabler. For local authorities, their day-to-day business is not technology or configuring and developing applications. Their business is achieving better outcomes for citizens, providing more value in terms of Council Tax, and freeing up the time of staff, their most valuable resource. Technology is used to support these things.

But if there is a problem now, what will it be like in 5 or 10 years’ time? Councils tend to put off  technology conversations because they see it as being difficult. And costly. They may only replace outdated platforms when it becomes a significant burden and absolutely has to be fixed.

Thinking in advance about what needs to be achieved – and what added value will be created from any new technology – will help form the basis of budget and value discussions.

Budget constraints

There is clearly a cost-conscious element to the approach local authorities have to digital transformation: by their very nature they are financially constrained. They need to provide services to everyone: children, adults and the wider community. They need to spend money as efficiently as possible. Staff working in these services are passionate about finding ways to improve processes and get things done, finding solutions that will suit their citizens and fit their strategy. Yes, budgets are tight and that can make things difficult, but the desire to serve their community drives them to find the best outcomes.

Quick wins or a bang approach

In the technology industry, a ‘big bang’ approach means introducing a whole new system of technology to go from A-Z. It can be expensive to overhaul existing – and add new – systems in this manner, but it is essential to have a solid foundation to build upon. But if existing platforms are impacting service delivery, it may be time to think longer term as quick wins may not provide longevity. If lasting solutions are needed, a proper and systematic overhaul could be the best way to get there and will prove, in the long run, more cost-effective.

However, it’s not always necessary to opt for wholesale change. Approaching solutions bit-by-bit may suit budget-constrained local authorities, or those where there is a need to fix services or a particular problem quickly. Take individual departments like Finance or HR and start by improving their systems, or look at how well different systems within the organisation are integrated.

Data is fundamental to change

One thing that takes time is moving data from one place to another, and joining it up between departments. There can be quick wins by organising data because it can show you  the bigger picture: where is the money being spent … where there are process inefficiencies … where are the biggest community service hotspots that need more attention?

Data feeding automation and Artificial Intelligence also helps locate trouble spots or process breaks.  This information feeding an underlying platform such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 F&O (Finance & Operations) helps resolve issues to deliver services more smoothly.

Cloud Software Solutions for State & Local Government

Whether you are a government office or department at the local or state level, you face growing demands to provide expanded, high quality services and improved outcomes to ensure continued funding.

The people you serve require greater efficiency and accountability. You must contend with many factors, from managing cases to increasing operational requirements—with tight budgets and systems that don’t help your people do their jobs better.

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Challenges facing local authorities

The public sector is under pressure: limited budgets, demand for services workloads increasing. Many back-office teams are having to do more work with less funding and available resource. They don’t want to waste time on things that do not add value for the communities they serve … but the technology at their disposal – which should be enabling them – is often not able to keep pace with the growing workload.

The job for technology partners is to give local authorities more time to deliver their front-line services. Some of these services are legislative and statutory and some, if they fail, will have those authorities splashed across the front pages of the newspapers. If the root causes of problems aren’t fixed, then people working in local government are simply faced with more and more pressure, and end up working harder, doing longer hours. The job still has to get done. If routine tasks can be automated and made more efficient, this frees up valuable time to deliver frontline services faster and better.

It’s likely there will be new challenges for local governments to face over the coming months and years. They will have to reshape, reorganise and redefine how they deliver services. They need flexibility and they need technology that will enable that.

Connecting front-line services and back-office staff

Data is a great place to start any digital project. It shows the amount of work being done to produce the output – how much time and effort goes into various tasks. This insight can then guide decisions when introducing technology and show which areas will be helped the most.

It’s important to develop an understanding of what technology can actually do. Many local government organisations have been working with static technology for a long time. They don’t know what they don’t know. Part of our role – as partners and as technology specialists – is to help local authorities understand how technology can make it easier to support the growing needs of their communities.

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