Chapter 1

Covid driven transformation

The pandemic has challenged local authorities to think differently about how they use technology to deliver services. It became clear that technology offered the quickest and best – often the only – way to embrace the new way of working. As Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport for Wales stated: “Technology should no longer be seen in a silo. Technology should be seen as the way we do things.”

It’s the right message. One accentuated by a pandemic that has challenged authorities to think differently about how they deliver citizen services in a constantly shifting, and largely unknown, landscape. But in the practical delivery of new approaches, technology is limited by the very thing that makes it an advantage.

“Technology should no longer be seen in a silo. Technology should be seen as the way we do things.”

Lee Waters Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport for Wales

Technology, limited by technology

One of the challenges for local authority leaders is to not be frightened to embrace new technology. Instead, be inquisitive about the different ways of working – the new opportunities - it presents. But in a recent interview, the Chief Executive of a London Borough council stated that “The capabilities of technology now far exceed our ability to get the most from it.” It’s ironic then to think that the very cure to the challenge of service delivery is considered too advanced to be of benefit.

Is it the fault of technology that its potential is not realised? Perhaps there’s something else at play as the Director of Adult Social Services from one council suggests “Success is not landing the technology; it’s getting people using the technology.” There is then a skills gap.

Large group of people doing yoga in a park on colorful yoga mats

Technology, limited by people

The draw of higher salaries and career opportunities has long drained the digital talent pool of local government. But there is something authorities can offer the private sector can’t: fast tracked digital skills. Local Government is the ideal breeding ground for those who:

  • Learn how to use advanced technology.
  • Advance digital talents.
  • Then use these skills to make a positive difference to society.

As Microsoft’s Head of Public Sector, Sam Bramwell, stated “We should want our local authorities to become a place where people want to go and work and have a career; they should be a prime destination because they have and use the best technology, have the best training programmes, and have a valuable social and community purpose.”

Technology, limited by purpose

Overcoming gaps in service starts with identifying the challenges that need solving. Mapping the technology direction and skills required to reach the end goal comes next.

As Paul highlights above, technology works when it is fit for purpose in terms of functionality and people’s ability to use it. But it’s worth noting that citizens are more attuned to technology than ever. It is now a core part of daily life (when was the last time you left the house without your phone?) and this can be taken into count when deciding how to use technology to deliver digitally enabled care. Just so long as thought is given to the end outcome – improving people’s lives.

Paul Najsarek, Chief Executive, London Borough of Ealing:

“You need to know why you are doing it, how it will impact the job you do, and what will change as a result. Technology might look good on paper – but the practical application and use may render it less than ideal, so understanding and identifying the barriers before roll-out is important. Then you will know whether the technology can fit it in to people’s lives”