Chapter 1

Digital Transformation for councils in the wake of the pandemic

About CCN Partners

Partnering with the County Councils Network (CCN) offers private, public, community and third sector stakeholders’ unique networking opportunities to work with council leaders and chief executives from county councils and county unitaries in England.

It also gives those interested the opportunity to promote your organisations objectives, a brand or service, to deliver better community outcomes, drive industry practice forward and get your voice heard among decision makers.

Our dialogues publications are a series of think pieces supported by the partners of CCN. This think piece report is sponsored by HSO.

About HSO

Helping citizens live their best lives.

HSO is a Transformation Partner with deep industry expertise, leveraging the full power of Microsoft technology to transform the way you work so you can engage citizens in more ways. Delivering the connected services that make a positive difference to citizens lives.

We help county councils modernise operations, adopt intelligent automation, deliver real-time performance insights and connect systems – accelerating the impact of digital transformation.

Founded in 1987 and recognised as a trusted advisor, HSO is one of the world’s top business solution and implementation partners, large enough to serve, small enough to care.


Future historians will likely classify the present age as the early stages of the ‘digital revolution’, following the ‘industrial revolution’ before it. Roughly a quarter of a century since the internet emerged from a niche preserve of tech enthusiasts into the mainstream, the ways in which it has re-shaped our world from commerce to communication are manifold. And most experts believe this is only the beginning.

As technology advances, inevitably social norms and behaviours evolve. As such, local authorities across England need to regularly review and upgrade their digital service offer to meet community expectations – in most cases now raised by their experiences during the pandemic. Much of the faceto-face engagement at council buildings which was the norm even just twenty years ago – paying a council tax bill in person for example – is now seen as archaic. Most citizens expect the same level of service digitally from their council as they receive when engaging with businesses online.

Local authorities have long recognised the importance of embracing new technology to deliver high quality, accessible, and convenient services for their citizens. Councils have learnt a lot over this time, increasing their in-house capabilities and skills to handle IT procurement and implementation. They also see the cost savings which digital technology can provide in the medium- to long-term. Digital transformation has therefore emerged as a vital element of local authority strategy. But with technology evolving at a rapid rate, councils still face a challenge to maintain pace as systems become more sophisticated in their capabilities, with installation increasingly complex.

This challenge has evolved in the wake of Covid. The unprecedented measures needed to tackle the
pandemic – most notably lockdown and the reliance on online communications to stay connected – have shifted the context in which councils’ digital transformation strategies have developed. This has accelerated both the demand and the viability of some aspects of strategies drawn up before 2020, whilst slowing progress on others and even circumventing the need for some elements entirely.

Earlier this year the County Councils Network (CCN) joined with HSO – a leading Microsoft Local Government partner and advisor on digital technology – to explore issues around digital transformation with member councils. The aim has been to better understand how CCN member authorities are revising their digital strategies in the context of emerging needs in the post-pandemic era – from the shift in workforce recruitment and work patterns; through the growing impact of cloud-based computing; to the increasing reliance of communities on digital access as a ‘utility’ with those unable to access it facing exclusion from society.

The content of this report has been drawn primarily from discussion at a senior roundtable held in May 2022 which brought together expertise from across CCN’s member councils at both political and officer level. It has been supplemented by additional conversations with members of the Digital Group established by the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) to foster better collaboration across its membership.