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Michael Lonnon 01:10
Our discussion today is around maintaining innovation in local government. So COVID has forced organisations, local government, local authorities to change the way they deliver services out to communities, often in a better way. Can you give me some examples of how local authorities have adapted the way they serve the needs of their communities using technology?
Sam Bramwell 01:46
The first one really is remote working, the shift from office based to work from anywhere they can. The second is the digitisation of processes that have been, fundamentally manual based for so long. When we look at that, in terms of the work that we’ve been doing with some of the councils in the UK, it’s looking at things like outbreak management. So, whereas before a local authority would have been using maybe an Excel spreadsheet or even just paper or post it notes, they’ve transitioned into using technology that’s easily available to them. This has meant they have been able to get up and running quickly and that’s helped them to connect to different services, not just in the council, like Public Health England as well. So, we’ve seen that change, and that shift happen over the last 18 months.
Michael Lonnon 03:05
You mentioned there about some authorities still using paper to manage the processes.
Sam Bramwell 03:12
When we went through the process of creating the outbreak management template it was great. We had an amazing outcome and interaction with some of our customers which was great. Understanding what they’re going through. But also what was very clear is that people are still using, paper and post it notes, because it’s just the way they’ve always worked. With a lack of investment in technology, and with a lack of skills to support any investment in the training and readiness, people defer to what they know, their comfort zone, and we want to show them there is a different way forward.
Michael Lonnon 03:56
For those who have embraced digital transformation, do you think it’s been an easy transition?
Sam Bramwell 04:05
I don’t think it’s been easy. I think what it’s shown me is that there is such a lot of capability, ingenuity and innovation in our local authorities. When I talk to people who effectively serve our public they want to help, and I saw that through the pandemic they want to do the best that they can, and I think the transition to using different technology can be hard. I’ve been so impressed by how so many people can see the opportunity for using Power Apps, and we talk a lot about the sort of citizen developer, there is no better person to develop an application than those use the process every day. Often, we have these brainstorming sessions, but we don’t bring the user in, involve them in actually how to improve. I’ve seen so many smart people become empowered to create new services and we’ve got to continue with that.
Michael Lonnon 05:06
Do you think it’s been a surprise to council’s that there is this in-built technology but there is a lack of understanding or willingness to try different things?
Sam Bramwell 05:20
It’s not a surprise, because I think there’s a lot of passion for people in user groups. I think the bigger challenge we have is digitised digital skills and access to training. Not everyone is at the same level, so people fear change, and what organisations do, whether they’re public sector or private sector, is enable people to go on that change curve by communication, skilling them up, showing them that we are not going take away their jobs, it is going to make their job better. If I think about a social worker, or somebody who works in child welfare, if they’re spending 80% of their time, form filling, they’re not spending 100% of their time helping children in need and that’s the kind of shift we’ve got to get to. I don’t think anybody goes into social care, wanting to be a form filler, they want to go into it because they want to help families. I think those are the kinds of things we’ve got to start thinking about.
Michael Lonnon 06:29
That’s a great point, this momentum that’s built up, do you think councils are moving forward and continuing with it?
Sam Bramwell 06:43
I’m a big believer in optimism so I hope that people will see what we’ve achieved and that we continue the momentum. I am seeing the barriers taken away, which is often either political, money, or ego, sometimes in organisations and when those barriers are taken away, we can go really fast. I think now that the lights been shone on IT, organisations are taking steps to say, well, let’s just continue that momentum. We have guardrails in place around procurement and for the right reasons, but we’ve got to make sure they’re not barriers to innovation. I think there’s some self-reflection that needs to happen across the local authority industry to ensure we can go faster to drive momentum forward.
Michael Lonnon 07:58
When it comes to those barriers, and if you had to offer a piece of advice to remove those barriers, where might a local authority start?
Sam Bramwell 08:11
One of the things I’ve witnessed over the last 18 months is partnership. I often think that sometimes we get so embroiled in these roles, that sometimes we lose sight of the end game, which is about us improving Citizen Services. So what I do think that we’ve demonstrated working with our partners, working directly with our customers, is how partnership can help move forward and create the trust that’s needed. I’ll give you an example of this when we were delivering a track and trace solution into another country in the UK. We worked very closely with them. The trust it created at that time of crisis helped remove barriers and I think for me this is how we should continue. Build trust between different players in the industry because ultimately, we all want to shift the UK into the best position in the future of our world.
Michael Lonnon 09:24
How does the customer benefit from the changes in services, and how do you keep those things going?
Sam Bramwell 09:43
I think one of the things I know you and I have discussed before is around understanding the proper citizen demographics. We’ve got so many age groups in the UK, obviously all needing services and I think what’s proven over the last 18 months is that some age groups such as those 80 plus are not digitised, they’re disconnected and are unable to access things. Some only want to text with people and having the insight on the behaviour of the of the citizen and being able to either anticipate that need or react to that need, it is going to be very important. I think the things that connect together, if done well, attract more people into the area and attract more business. We can look at things like revenue creation, how do we monetize more services, I’ll give you an example of this. I’ve been applying to be a chaperone for my daughter who does a lot of professional acting work and the process to apply for is manual and this process doesn’t create them any money, so if you don’t invest, you’re taking kind of Child Welfare people away from doing their job. You could do two things, one is invest in the technology to automate it, and create revenue around it. Why not charge people £25. So, we look at how we help them to create ways in which they can drive revenue, as well as drive cost efficiency.
Michael Lonnon 11:23
A really good message overall. So, in order to get hold of that technology that removes manual processes and automates a lot of it, that technology doesn’t necessarily have to be as expensive as might be perceived, I would say that’s probably a pretty strong message as well.
Sam Bramwell 11:48
I think that there’s a real shift from doing these kind of big bang approaches. If I look at things like ERP replacements and even CRM replacements 10 or 15 years ago, it was a huge big bang. I see now more modular approaches based on the need and I think that helps to do a couple of things. One is to prove what people are doing, and it gets people engaged quicker and gets the ROI being delivered. I think there’s a great opportunity to look at what can you digitise today. What you need to digitise tomorrow and just keep kind of moving forward.