The most common hurdle to deployment of digital by default services is legacy systems, according to respondents of a recent survey from Xirrus. Duncan Fisken, VP, EMEA at Xirrus discusses the results.
Times are tough for local authorities: tight budgets mean that it’s difficult to invest in keeping up to date with IT infrastructure, yet they are under pressure to embrace digital channels for the delivery of services and engagement of constituents.
This pressure comes in many forms. The government’s UK Digital Inclusion Charter, launched earlier this year, sets the bar high, committing to cut the number of UK citizens who are still offline by 25% by 2016, then by a further 25% every two years.
In the Government Digital Inclusion Strategy, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude outlines the scale of the challenge: “Recent research published by the BBC has found that 21% of Britain’s population lack the basic digital skills and capabilities required to realise the benefits of the internet.”
Yet, the potential economic and social benefits of the digital by default agenda are great. Independent analysts Booz and Co. estimate full digital take up could add £63 billion value to the UK economy and save £1.2bn of taxpayers’ money by Spring 2015.
At the other end of the spectrum, local authorities are feeling pressure – or at least demand – from tech-savvy constituents. To understand this demand, Xirrus partnered with Ingenium to survey 140 UK-based IT decision-makers from local authorities about the delivery of services and barriers to adoption of new technologies.
While the report found that 88% say that their organisation must become a ‘digital business’ to better engage service users, some 34% of those who answered said tighter budget constraints this was the biggest IT challenge facing their organisation.
Drilling down, the most common hurdle amongst all respondents is legacy systems that are hard to integrate into a more modern infrastructure (43%), followed by the lack of funding to provide additional services (38%).
Despite the challenges, our research indicates that progressive IT leaders within local government are forging ahead as best they can to realise the vision, with 74% of respondents having a strategy for implementation of new technologies, and 63% said they are confident about their department’s ability to deliver significant IT-led innovation.
When asked about the types of technologies that local authorities require to develop the organisation, the highest ranked were: e-transactions, wireless networking, business intelligence tools and core IT infrastructure, such as Enterprise Resource Planning tools (41%). In the past 12 months, 30% of respondents have focused on e-transactions, 45% have already invested in wireless networking and 26% have prioritised core IT infrastructure.
The majority of IT leaders surveyed believe they need to build more trust with users of their services. The largest proportion (83%) of respondents hope to build trust through better engagement via social media, while 75% would like a standard online payment service and 63% say that mobile apps for council services would help.
A number of councils are leading the way in this arena. For example, Birmingham City Council offers residents an app that provides council job vacancies, school term dates, pot hole reporting and contact details of councillors. Chesterfield Borough Council offers residents a smartphone app that allows them to access housing services, such as repairs and rent reminders, and Salford City Council provides an app that provides recycling and bin collection data.
Wireless networks are an enabler for e-transactions and engagement via mobile apps and social media. Moreover, they’re seen as a key tool for innovation and boosting collaboration. Wireless networks can also help integrate legacy IT – a major challenge for local authorities – by plugging into existing infrastructure to create a secure extension of the network. They can be extended to other locations in the local authority’s jurisdiction.
As the Government Digital Inclusion Strategy purports, digital self-service eliminates much of the administrative burden imposed by traditionally labour-intensive manual processes and saves budget. In this context, wireless networks make good business sense.
The proliferation of mobile devices means we continue to see mass demand for Wi-Fi everywhere, whether that demands comes from civil servants capturing information on iPads in the office or pupils using e-readers in the library. It’s vital that local authorities adapt their ICT to keep up with the pace of change taking place more widely.
With the potential economic and social benefits so great, high performance wireless networks are proving to be one way not only to achieve the goals of the Digital Inclusion Strategy, but to provide ready access to services and help organisations become digital by default.