Five digital tips for local government
Jes Ladva, Managing Partner, Local and Central Government Practice, applauds the progress made by local authorities around digital investment and highlights some further issues to address.
Transformation, as we know, looms large within the public sector. Arguably, local authorities are at the forefront of using data to improve people’s lives and on a larger scale (although what really is bigger than making someone’s life better?) have embraced digital transformation programmes across service provision and administrative functions.
There is an abundance of amazing work to applaud but sadly little time to do so because many digital and technology-related opportunities and challenges remain. Here are five significant issues and some thoughts on addressing them.
Justifying IT infrastructure spend
The growth in technology demand seen since the pandemic has put Councils under pressure to upgrade the capacity of their networks and processing centres and increase use of cloud-based solutions, all of which comes at a cost. “Justifying the growing spend on underlying technology support services will be challenging but unavoidable,” concludes the Public sector digital trends 2023 report. Evidence-based investment is the way forward.
Further digital transformation of services
Many Councils still have a long way to go in transforming services so that they are fit for today’s digital world. Indeed, some may argue the journey will never be complete given the speed at which technology evolves. Nevertheless, there are plenty of laudable examples of great work in this area. Liverpool City Region’s skills and jobs opportunities hub Be More triumphed in the Technology category of this year’s LGC Awards. Judges were impressed by the emphasis on co-design and making sure the product appealed to the user. A good template for others to follow.
Harnessing predictive analytics
Predictive analytics is the use of historic data and machine learning to predict new instances or cases by identifying patterns and relationships. Although use of predictive analytics in local government is at an early stage in comparison with the private sector, some councils have experimented to model future demand for services. Hertfordshire County Council conducted a pilot using Internet of Things devices in the homes of social care clients to predict health problems at an early stage, while the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has accelerated intervention after identifying households at risk of homelessness. To better harness predictive analytics, some local authorities will need to plug a data science talent gap.
Applying a logical approach to apps
When Apple launched the App Store in 2008 it played host to a mere 500 apps. Today, more than 7 million apps are available worldwide. Local authorities have developed apps for a wide array of purposes and typically these are useful and user friendly. Several give users access to a wide range of options, from checking recycling and bin collection days, to paying Council Tax or business rates and viewing Council job vacancies. A potential downside for Councils that do not take an integrated approach is that they may end up with a patchwork of unconnected apps with overlapping data and inconsistent log-ins that can be a challenge to manage. Have an app strategy!
Cybersecurity to thwart organised crime
Ransomware, extortion and the cybercrime ecosystem, a joint white paper from the NCSC and NCA published on 11 September 2023, addresses the shift towards the ‘ransomware as a service’ model, where criminals with less technical skill can launch attacks by using pre-developed ransomware tools. Cyber-attacks by organised crime groups on local authorities are an ongoing danger and investment in cybersecurity is essential – albeit that a bit more guidance from central government on how much local authorities should be spending and where would be welcome. Cybersecurity action should also cover determining which assets to protect and embedding resilience in supply chains. The LGA offers some useful advice on this here.
I hope my tips are helpful, but for serious strategic problem-solving in the digital space you may find the answer lies with interim management. If that’s the case, please let me know because the Odgers Interim talent pool is second to none.