John Jervis, IEG4, explains that whatever the future looks like, councils will need to adopt a culture of ongoing iteration and digital groundwork that enables innovation whilst encouraging collaboration.
The current crisis, which came in addition to the changing demographics and economic pressures that are constantly raising new challenges for public services, starkly showed that nobody can accurately predict what their own organisations will face in the future. The ones that responded best were the ones that were inventive and agile in developing new behaviours and solutions.
Even at the height of the crisis, we saw that all councils needed to do most of the same things as other councils in response to the new situation. It was perhaps Plato who said that necessity is the mother of invention – and being inventive was something we saw again and again in relation to public service provision in the last few months.
In recent years, we have seen the beginning of change with respect to sharing systems and software. More and more suppliers are enabling local authorities to create ‘apps’ which they can share with other organisations and to pick and choose ‘apps’ to use which other organisations have created. One example is my own company’s (IEG4) Local Government as a Platform, or LGaaP.
During the height of the response to the COVID crisis, our customers were able to collaborate and share developments in their response to new demands for digital solutions. Sharing meant that different councils could innovate on ways to meet different solutions, demonstrating that collaboration meant more innovation.
Underlying all this, is the fact that digital transformation is not about technology; it is about a readiness to innovate, deal with cultural change and create new services to cope with emerging challenges. And to collaborate. However, it must draw on the capabilities of technology, and the best customer engagement systems provide an array of capabilities, giving local government great scope to design solutions to those challenges.
Along with this is the increased emphasis on agile development techniques, in which teams do not begin with a detailed specification of the desired solution but identify a desired outcome and develop the solution through a series of iterations. It is about failing fast, establishing what works and moving onto the next stage.
At IEG4, our approach is that, whilst councils do like to do things their own way, which means there is, inevitably, some reinvention of the wheel going on – it is also true that more and more councils are happy to share. And through IEG4U, IEG4’s customer portal, they are able to make forms they’ve built for ‘things’ (see above) available for other councils to see, customise and use. Additionally, IEG4’s own free library of forms numbers around 100, which is also available to all customers on the portal. This means that, from day one, users have access to a library of in excess of 250 forms.
So, this really is ‘Council in a box’, and represents an opportunity for local authorities to make a step change forward with their digital strategies, wherever they are in the journey. This may be to get started on a coherent digital strategy, or to pull a number of disparate departmental approaches together. It may be to get a head-start on a response to a critical situation. Because not only do councils get access to the forms, but also because the forms share the same coherence, the same look and feel – it makes it easier for citizens accessing the council to recognise and navigate through a form. And if citizens find it easier to use online services, then channel shift, digital transformation, really does happen.
Whatever the future looks like, local authorities and other service organisations will have to reinvent their roles and focus on different outcomes for the public, with an emphasis on the roots of societal problems. This needs a culture of ongoing iteration that is ready to grasp the opportunities offered by changes in technology. It needs a digital groundwork that is future proofed; that enables innovation and encourages collaboration.