Dynamics Matters Podcast: Using technology to connect with communities

Pressures facing local government authorities

Budget constraints are the biggest challenge faced by local government organisations in serving their communities. Over the last decade, funding has been slashed, but demand for services hasn’t abated – if anything, demand has increased. The result being local authorities trying to deliver more, but with less money.

The demand for essential services is not going to disappear. Budget cuts affect so many facets of community life. People still need refuse collection – everyone wants to have their bins emptied. No one wants it to be their local library which is forced to close down. There is a huge demand for better recycling facilities, mental health services, special needs support in schools, more bobbies on the street, better social care. Austerity has increased demand in all sorts of areas and a lot less money has to stretch a long way. The introduction of Universal Credit has had a massive impact on many people. Across the UK, people are often having to make do with a lot less.

Local authorities are forced to ask: “How can we continue to offer services to our citizens, to the standards they expect, within a constrained budget?”

How technology can help

When budgets are going down and demand is going up, technology plays an important role in helping local government authorities continue to serve the needs of their communities, by bringing about new efficiencies, saving time, saving money, allowing authorities to move with the times and be both proactive and responsive

Local government authorities can look at how commercial businesses are using technology to extend the services they offer within a limited budget. Utilities are a good example: their market is very competitive, and heavily regulated – the regulator demands each operates cost-effectively. So the “cost to serve” is an important metric – they are continually looking to reduce the cost of serving their customers without hurting or restricting the service they provide.

Local authorities can take advantage of technology – not simply to deliver the same standard of services they always have but to extend and improve what they do: in many cases, actually making the delivery of a service better than before – by helping them to get closer to their citizens, but in a way that is not cost-prohibitive. Often bringing in new technology is not an expense in the long term as it can lower existing costs.

How should local government organisations introduce new technology?

It doesn’t need to happen in one big bang. Digital transformation might sound like a mammoth thing, but it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s in no one’s interest to engage in a monolithic programme of technology implementation and the upheaval associated with that. There are times when it is appropriate to change a platform, for example, but these days it is better to build up to that kind of change by starting off with much  shorter projects that deliver value very quickly.

Instead of so much time spent ‘pushing paper’, certain business processes can be automated, saving time for members of staff. It may take very little time to implement an automated process, but it then saves a lot of time for the business. You get rapid payback. You see benefits straightaway. Over a month or two, those small changes add up to something substantial.

Local authorities are becoming more agile in their thought process, realising that impactful change doesn’t have to be all or nothing. They’re thinking about smaller incremental changes which deliver value. They want solutions that are quick and simple to implement. There are changes in thinking by senior people, the decision-makers, about how best to utilise technology, to benefit communities and reduce costs. This is being driven by those same budget constraints, and a recognition that ‘islands of data’ and ‘islands of systems’ can be joined up to gain efficiencies.

The HSO approach to local government digital transformation

If local governments want to increase value and become more connected with their communities, what is the first step to take towards digital transformation?

It’s best to not start too big. Instead, deliver something small scale that solves a very specific pain point. For example, an app that allows social workers to upload case notes on a tablet that is fed back to the main office system in real time. This moves actions along faster which is a benefit for all concerned. Once you have value there, choose another specific pain point to be your focus.

As you build up these quick wins, you can begin to think about extending to larger and more complex systems. Systems that will deliver more transformational value across a wider area of the organisation. For example, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Operation pulls together siloed systems, data, and processes from across the organisation to enable greater collaboration, efficiency, and cost savings. But such projects require the input of more people and thus more time. But, because of your previous smaller scale wins, getting people involved will be much easier to achieve.

If you’d like to get find out more about how HSO can help, please chat with our local government experts: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for the Local Government