Smarter people, smarter places

Councils need to appoint chief information officers to align digital departments with the wider local government transformation agenda, according to Mike Blackburn.

Digital technology is playing a major role in modernising local authorities, according to a recent report from the New Local Government Network (NLGN), transforming how councils interact with citizens and helping them deliver services more cost effectively.

But digital technology is just one of many strands that need to knit together to give local authorities the capability of delivering, not just services at lower cost, but improved services at lower cost.

However, the promise of digital will be hampered if local authorities do not first address the current management frameworks.

The traditional ‘top-down’ approach to boosting service performance rarely delivers across the board – a one-size-fits-all approach cannot meet the complex requirements of multiple jurisdictions.

Instead, a shift to a place-based style of leadership, rather than an organisational one, should be considered.

Just as people’s daily lives span different organisational boundaries, meeting a range of health and social care needs will require multiple service providers to work in unison, to sequence their care rather than operating in silos in tightly defined territories.

A place-based style of leadership, integrated policies and pooling the provision of health and social care make common sense for one simple reason – they reflect the geography of people’s lives.

Ten authorities in Greater Manchester are the first in the country to develop this style of leadership in the form of a statutory ‘combined authority’, which is responsible for co-ordinating key economic development, regeneration and transport functions.  

In action since 2011, its success is illuminating, as is its citizen-centric approach.

The combined authority is not only collaborating between the 10 local authorities but is also collaborating with other public bodies, especially in the NHS. 

How it works: The outcome for the individual is prioritised irrespective of who is delivering the service.  In fact it is so successful that Liverpool is looking to transition to a similar model and it’s our hope that other key cities will too.

Trust and collaboration between central and local government is key to this process and it is the only way these new prosperous models can reach their potential.

NLGN have suggested that councils should create a leadership environment where digital becomes core to all business, including the appointment of a cabinet member for digital.

We believe that a more significant post is also needed, that of a chief information officer (CIO).

A CIO, who will look at place and the needs of the citizens within it, and then coordinate systems across organisational boundaries.

They will link the technological aspects of digital to everyday business, and push for the transformation of council and health departments.

The CIO would make sure that people, technology and processes weave together so they function as effectively as possible. 

The delivery of integrated services requires a CIO, or a network of place-based CIOs, who are agnostic of any one organisation.

Their focus is embedding the digital revolution and unlocking the benefits it holds in order to achieve the desired strategy.

As well as taking digital technology mainstream, a CIO can diffuse the apprehension that currently surrounds the spectre of Big Data.  

Instead, these newly appointed intelligence gatherers, can help local authorities to see this asset for what it is: a gold mine.

Through analysis, local authorities can transform this free resource – the data they hold on their citizens and services – into information.

The emerging trends and patterns that arise from close scrutiny in turn become the intelligence that can fuel smarter, faster decision making and realign cross organisational processes to deliver better services.

Over the last few years to combat the downtown, the focus has been on cutting the cost of services. However as the adage goes, hitting the target often misses the point.

Access to big data and the revelations it offers, allied with the ways in which technology can improve workflow can help local authorities to aim for better outcomes and loftier goals.

This is turn delivers improved services at a cheaper price, rather than the same service for less. 

One example of this in the world of healthcare is being able to monitor a patient’s care, and suggest interventions that keep them out of hospital.

Instead, treatment is provided in more cost-effective places in the community.

Alternatively, digital technology and big data combined could help to keep all care providers, from doctors and community nurses to social workers, aware of and working together with patient-centric integrated care plans.  

Reluctance and mistrust characterised the early introduction of digital technologies.

Now they are at the heart of the public sector and have proven the role they can play in improving services and the efficiencies they can achieve. 

But for these technologies to reach their potential, three things need to occur: the switch to a place-based style of leadership, unlocking the power of Big Data, and the introduction of cross organisational CIOs.

Together these transitions, will allow local authorities to become better equipped to meet the real needs of citizens by redesigning their services to meet the actual behaviour and wants of users.

Mike Blackburn, is vice president, strategy & planning, BT Government

Colin Marrs

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *