Local Government Digital Transformation: Pathways, Challenges, and Solutions

Local Government's Mission

Local Government's mission is to provide citizens, public and private institutions, and businesses with the infrastructure to build sustainable, scalable, and happy communities. Ensuring that public agencies have the right tools, techniques, and approaches to serve their citizens is critical to the success of this mission.

It may feel like there is a lot to do to start providing the experiences and services that our citizens have come to expect from the likes of Amazon, John Lewis, and Curry's in the private sector. However, the digital solutions available now are much more advanced than when these organisations commenced their pathways to transforming experiences. Therefore, such initiatives are much quicker to expedite today, making them cost-effective and low-risk.

Most Government agencies use well over a dozen systems and applications in their call centres alone. Navigating through these to get the requisite information at the right time is arduous for users and case workers. This lack of efficiency spills over from the case worker to the citizen, leading to poor case resolution times and dissatisfied citizens who feel like they are in a never-ending loop.

The cost of managing and maintaining all of these applications is significant. Furthermore, these systems must enable Government Agencies to apply the best practice processes that our citizens have come to expect. Citizens' expectations are becoming more demanding as they seek low-friction digital interactions, higher productivity and a greener economy.

This is happening against the backdrop of fiscal challenges intensified by COVID-19 and the exit of the European Union. It is clear that the usual mental models to help navigate through this situation will not work. The implementation of the Industrial Strategy, Devolution, Levelling up, and Net Zero agendas need effective policy design and an operational delivery that requires strong strategic planning.

In essence – Local Government's citizens are their customers and shareholders. Therefore, we have to draw a line in the stand to connect government agencies with citizens and allow them to be in the centre of their universe – thus driving a single view of the citizen.

Where should Local Government Agencies Focus?

Most citizens only contact the council once or twice yearly for transactional queries, which should be frictionless and resolved swiftly. Therefore the focus should be on providing an efficient and streamlined service, which will ultimately mean fewer failure demand calls, fewer chasers, and fewer enquiries into call centres. This attentive service will lead to delighted citizens that support improved living standards for residents, promoting thriving and healthy communities and maintaining an attractive environment that citizens value.

Local government agencies hold vast amounts of data on their citizens, including addresses, employment information, social care requirements, and more. Ensuring this data is stored in a single repository, easily accessible for case workers and citizens, is essential to drive efficiencies and optimise processes. Furthermore, citizens will be able to resolve issues themselves with embedded smart automations and workflows, which will relieve case workers of having to work on mundane tasks enabling them to focus on critical issues. Providing citizens with autonomy through self-service will improve case-handling time, create a more connected experience and reduce costs. Furthermore, having contextual conversations across communication channels is a great place to start.

Digitisation in Local Government - Do More with Less!

Many local councils use digital solutions to collect and store data required to provide a particular service. However, these are typically legacy point solutions. While potentially sufficient in addressing a specific issue - point solutions create fragmented data sets, making it sub-optimal for people needing to access this data. As such, running local authority services on a single digital platform has many functional, technical, and efficiency-based benefits. There needs to be a shift in mindset to be proactive. Investing in legacy systems that do not fulfil their purposes and drive siloed data repositories must stop. Shifting towards a public sector platform that is integrated 'out of the box' would solve this challenge immediately without the need for custom development and integration.

Local government touchpoints can be inefficient, time-consuming and expensive. Most inbound calls and emails are about mundane issues such as "Why hasn't my bin been collected". These cases stretch the resources required to provide vital social care services to their limits. A single, well-managed platform will allow for optimised processes and more automation and will enable a more straightforward pathway for resolving issues creating a richer, more connected experience for all concerned.

Local councils are responsible for repairs and maintenance in council-provided housing, but a lack of communication can lead to overspending. Technology will help by providing the infrastructure for these cases to be managed and resolved cost-effectively. Such a system could avoid inefficiencies such as engineers calling when residents are away from home. It could also identify problems that can be resolved by the resident, such as resetting boilers or failed fuses, without needing to disturb an engineer.

Creating a centralised, automated system will facilitate a more well-informed decision-making process and eliminate the inefficiencies of maintaining multiple communication and data points.

As one OECD government study puts it:
"The rise of digital natives and the rapid digitalisation of social and economic activities demand a digital government that provides the institutional framework for the development of the digital revolution."
The last few years have proved that Local Government agencies must respond quickly to change. In the future, Local Government agencies must leverage Digitisation to support the environmental impact of their citizens, institutions and services. There will also be a mandatory need to provide a journey to zero-carbon housing and a decarbonised community. Agencies with a single view of the citizen in place will thrive, whilst those will siloed data in legacy platforms will always be playing catch-up.

What is meant by a single view of the citizen?

Individual Government agencies and departments each hold specific pieces of information on citizens. However, due to siloed data repositories and no clear master data structure, it is time-consuming to access this data, let alone in real-time. Therefore, a single view of the citizen is where all of a citizen's interactions with local authorities are stored centrally for multiple departments to connect and collaborate.

The term 'single view of the customer' has been on the agenda of many private organisations for over a decade. Local Government agencies should learn, optimise and implement the parallels drawn from the rise of customer centricity and apply this to citizen centricity. A single view of the citizen will require a digital platform that captures all the relevant data that the Local Government and related service providers need to fulfil their mission. The solution will be futureproofed, integrated, robust and scalable, enabling you to pivot in line with the needs of the dynamic societies that we live in.

The benefits of having a single view of the citizen

A single view of the citizen can give a holistic overview of the community. Doing so will allow for improved monitoring of community services and the demands for these services. Once the demands are fully understood, it is easier to plan and forecast them accurately. Local authorities will be able to assess needs, set priorities, allocate budgets and assign resources with precision.

Maintaining data being held separately in different systems is inefficient, with no single source of truth. Furthermore, the quality and relevance of the data capture could be better. Having one central data profile for citizens can enable a more cost-effective, personalised experience for each individual. It will lead to more satisfied citizens, fewer complaints, and better outcomes for you and your community.

A centralised platform can allow for better communication between citizens and Local Government agencies. With digitised and automated services, citizens can use an online, 'self-serve' approach to keep their data current. This will also work as a touchpoint to alert local authorities to issues arising. The system should be user-friendly and streamline and streamline your operations.

Can local Government learn from big corporations?

Major business entities such as Amazon are known for their customer-centred service, which is based on deep knowledge of customer buying habits and preferences. Using the data acquired by tracking customer activity across its site, Amazon offers customers an ideal, timely service at an appropriate price point. The company can tell customers about price drops and stock changes and recommend alternatives to items that customers are considering buying or have already purchased.

While citizens require something different from their local council than what is available from an online retailer, it is worth considering how local authorities could approach their citizens similarly. An example of this is when accessing one service alerts the relevant authority to the fact that a household might require other services. With this in place, indeed cases such as the Awaab Ishak case could be avoided.

In the 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report, NICE asked consumers and senior decision makers across the US and UK what they believe is working in a digital-first customer journey and whether businesses are living up to their customers' expectations.

The report reveals major gaps between customers' thoughts about their support journeys and how seriously business leaders are taking their expectations. And the findings show that these disconnects have a major impact on brand loyalty—57% of customers will abandon a brand after only one or two negative interactions.

Some of the largest discrepancies include:
  • Self-service: 53% of businesses believe their customers are very satisfied with their self-service offerings, but only 15% of consumers agree
  • Options: 81% of consumers expect more self-service options, but 40% of businesses think they have enough
  • Search: 15% of businesses say Google is their consumers' first stop, but in actuality, 46% start their journeys with search
  • Smarter offerings: 36% of consumers want smarter self-service, but only 11% of businesses are prioritising it
  • Chat: 52% of consumers say chat is their preferred digital offering, but only 31% of businesses currently offer it

Having automation in place for routine services such as waste management could free up resources for things that require a more hands-on approach. An easily-accessed app or an online system connecting local government agencies with citizens could facilitate updates and reminders regarding refuse collection days. It could also inform citizens why a collection has been missed while allowing citizens to report missed collections or other issues. The application could be used to track citizens' habits to optimise collection times and routes or to plan for more community recycling facilities.

What can Local Goverment do to Improve the Situation?

The digital transformation of the public sector has been slower than in the private sector for various reasons. When it comes to adopting digital solutions, both local and national governments face a situation where many different departments and agencies are working with vastly different areas of citizens' lives, making centralised Digitisation a significant challenge. Private firms are often more streamlined, innovative, and better funded when it comes to technology and therefore have more opportunities for transformation. This is precisely why local governments should be clever with their approach and be ahead of the curve to make the best use of their time, money and resources.

It is vital to set up ways that data can be managed without incurring further expenses and without creating even more bureaucracy. A library approach to citizen data could work for local councils, and some authorities might benefit from expanding the role of local libraries. In this scenario, staff would become central to managing and distributing the necessary citizen data required to deliver a much broader range of services than those usually associated with the local library.

In some areas, it makes sense to share digitised information, and it is relatively simple to do so. In Central Government, the DVLA, for example, pulls digital photos and signatures from the UK passport office to ease the processing of new driving licences. However, there are so many entities involved, and so much data to be shared, that with suitable systems, information sharing seems practical. According to data published by McKinsey, the improvements that could be made are significant.

Technological solutions allow collaboration between the public and their local authority, between different departments and agencies, and other local authorities. The right technology could optimise time, maximise efficiencies and mobilise your workforce whilst improving citizens' well-being and bringing communities closer together.

Figures published by the Institute for Government show the spending cuts that Local Government has been forced to implement, demonstrating that change is increasingly necessary. Doing nothing to improve the Digitisation of local Government means delaying the reform of government systems and effectively robbing citizens of funds that could help those in crisis, as well as the budget required for preventative strategies for the future.

A single digital platform like Salesforce Public Sector Solutions (PSS) will reduce Local Government's cost and time to serve its citizens. Users' and agents' experiences will be transformed, and our local communities will thrive. Furthermore, Local Government agencies will be futureproofing their systems and processes to accommodate initiatives such as de-carbonisation.

About Adapt IQ

Adapt IQ is a Summit Salesforce Partner. We work hand in glove with the Local Government team at Salesforce. We are excited to unveil our solution, which is designed specifically for Local Government agencies on the PSS platform. Get in touch with us so we can work with you on a complimentary Public Sector prototype illustrating how your local community can embrace digital technology to enhance your services rapidly.