We’re all aware of the challenges facing local governments; tight budgets, outdated technology, and heavy workloads.
What you might not be aware of, is the fact that the pandemic served to both magnify these issues and provide a solution.
On one hand, budgetary pressures increased, and it became more important than ever to make sure citizens were given everything they needed.
However, on the other hand, the urgency of the pandemic meant that processes were sped up, remote collaboration between organisations improved, and digital transformation was accelerated at a greater pace than ever.
So, the question is, how can we ensure local governments are equipped to deal with the challenges of the pandemic, while simultaneously maintaining the digital momentum it created?
I recently took part in a roundtable discussion which dealt with this question.
The answer? Digital, community and technology.
The challenges facing local government
The key issues local government faces right now can be summed up relatively simply: ever-reducing budgets, lack of alignment, and inefficient working processes.
In the face of budget cuts, financial crisis, and staffing shortages, councils are expected to do more with less. But, without the right technology in place, it’s almost impossible.
What’s more, collaboration between services - be it local authorities, the NHS, or community groups doing vital groundwork - is crucial in order to ensure citizen’s needs are being met.
However, a lack of alignment between these services means that important data is coming in from a barrage of different sources and platforms, all in different formats. The result? Most of it is unusable, or requires a huge amount of manual intervention before use.
Without access to clear, actionable data in full, it’s difficult for councils to work out exactly what to prioritise in their budget, meaning the needs of vulnerable, hard to reach citizens can be easily overlooked.
We’re also facing a huge lack of efficiency due to siloed, legacy systems and manual processes.
At the height of the pandemic, excessive administrative processes such as reviews and paperwork were deprioritised in order to get the job done quickly, and keep citizen services live.
But without this sense of urgency, time spent on admin is creeping up once again, and local government organisations must seek to recover time elsewhere.
How digital technology can help
It’s often assumed the reason local governments are unable to invest in more modern technology solutions is because of lack of funding.
This, however, isn’t necessarily the case.
In fact, the financial benefits of the right technology solutions far outweigh the cost of doing nothing.
Take paper documents and manual processes for example. By digitising and automating manual processes and workflows, local governments can save hundreds of hours of staff time, which can then be allocated elsewhere, on what really matters - community engagement and innovation.
Additionally, we’re continuously seeing many resources wasted due to misaligned data and haphazard planning.
In order to plan efficiently, councils need to be able to work out how to prioritise what budget they do have and allocate resources accordingly.
To do that, they need full visibility of the incoming demand, and availability of adequate resources to meet that demand.
Modern technology solutions like those offered by ServiceNow are designed to connect and streamline data from a variety of sources, storing it all in one, easy to use platform. This allows employees to see all of it, and use it to form actionable insights, identify problem areas, and plan for the future.
Councils, such as Bucks County Council, are already benefiting from this type of offering, and are now able to predict what’s going on and pre-empt key issues and challenges. For example, members of the council can say "we know from the data to expect a spike of activity in December, so let’s plan for it".
You might assume that leveraging digital in this way would risk alienating some of the hardest to reach members of the community - those in situations where they don’t have access to computers or Wi-Fi. However, it’s actually the opposite.
Aligning on one platform solution means that multiple services can work collaboratively to reach everyone they need to. This can have a hugely positive impact on society as a whole.
Think about the frontline services. An aligned data platform would allow teams to share data compiled from their work on the ground with local government, who can then view and use that data, and take it into account when planning, resourcing and delivering both employee and citizen services.
How to do more with less
Local governments are unique organisations.
They provide so many different services and the landscape and budget holders are under continual pressure, which is exactly why they need to be agile.
Digital transformation allows them to do this. Look around us; services across all sectors are becoming more digital, whether it’s the increase of online shopping for consumer goods, or banking and other services.
There is a magic ticket for local government, and it isn’t additional funding, or a review of processes - it’s going digital.
Hear more insights and best practices from across UK government on this on-demand webinar.
For advice on how to maintain the momentum for digital transformation, please call us on 0800 640 8049, or visit https://servicenow.com/uk/localgov