The three biggest barriers to digital transformation in local government today

Written by Suraj Kika on 30 August 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

Suraj Kika of Jadu looks at what is stopping local authorities from investing in digital services

 

Each barrier to digital transformation in local government is enough to cause disruption on its own. Yet when grouped together – and multiplied many times over, across the 418 principal councils in the UK – can be a real hindrance to the way people in the UK interact with their local authorities. 

With that in mind, here are three of the biggest barriers to digital transformation in local government today. 

Lack of c-level digital leadership
Service redesign, which is essential for delivering modern services over the internet, requires strong digital leadership from the top. But c-level leaders need support and educational structures too.

The digital economy is fast-changing, and all too often it’s assumed that those at the top somehow organically absorb all the latest developments and are fully informed when making investment decisions. There is actually a real skill to staying informed and picking sources of information, which sets apart the most successful leaders.       

One of the biggest advantages of working in local government is the vast array of non-competing organisations that have faced the same challenges and who have experience in overcoming them. C-level leadership can really benefit from consulting other local authorities, along with trusted partner organisations. It should be in the interest of everyone to help facilitate those conversations and enable a culture of collaboration and sharing. 

Service-delivery siloes
That services within councils can actually be quite independent of each other is not something residents often necessarily know, or care, about. They’re interacting with the council as a whole and their experiences shouldn’t be hampered by the way the council is configured. 

However, long-standing silos can be a major barrier to effective digital transformation. The challenge can become as much about cultural transformation as technological.

Services that have previously seen the website as a way of explaining what they do and how they can help, now need to be shown the advantages of thinking differently – and not just on behalf of the services they’re involved with. While a focus on customers and redesign of user journeys is essential, much of the simplification of processes and removal of the friction for customers comes from disciplined service re-design and an iterative approach to delivering digital services. 

The shackles of legacy  
Often communication methods are restricted by entrenched back-office software implementations themselves. The size and complexity of some of these systems makes even the smallest change to customer service a major cost and investment. Fear of service redesign and systems rethinking – perhaps involving the removal of legacy back-office technology – can cause implementations to be slower and more expensive than they should be.  

For newly established digital teams, the pressure to deliver something early and show value naturally inclines them towards more cosmetic changes. This can result in a focus on the superficial – such as a simple refresh of the website – rather than tackling the harder infrastructural and business redesign processes. It can seem like an attractive route for those that don’t see the full potential of digital transformation. When you consider that 90% of scenarios can now be automated, failure to see the potential can be incredibly costly in the long run.

 

Workarounds often only add complexity and hinder true digital transformation later on down the line. To help overcome the barriers, local government should be looking at standardisation and simpler models for business processes. Digital should be a utility. 

Leverage digital platforms that provide standard workflows and integrations. To increase agility, consider iterative rollouts and embrace knowledge sharing with others at various stages of transformation. 

About the author

Suraj Kika is chief executive of Jadu

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