Socitm conference: public sector IT can learn lessons from gaming industry

Advances in the video game industry that have built customer-engagement and provided a rich source of data for developers can be emulated by councils, Socitm’s spring conference has heard.

Theo Blackwell, Camden Council’s cabinet member for finance and technology policy, told the April 21 event that the level of interaction with residents that digital platforms could provide had huge potential for shaping future services.

In addition, Blackwell – who is also head of policy at trade body the UK Interactive Entertainment Association, predicted a wider proliferation of IT shared-services agreements like his own authority’s recently-agreed deal with north London neighbours Haringey and Islington.

“I work in the video games industry and the video games industry has been supercharged by mobile phones over the past five years,” he said.

“It’s made the industry stronger, it’s created new business models and it’s enabled us to reach across to European customers and create global platforms.

“That involves discussions about data. We have the technology now to use our data, create new business models, and do things that we didn’t think we could do before.

“And I don’t think that the lessons from mobile gaming and other parts of technology can’t be applied to local government. In fact, I think they can.” 

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Blackwell told attendees at the event, organised by Public Technology’s parent company Dods, that while the “freemium” free-to-play model for video games only generated revenue from the small proportion of players who made in-app purchasers, it allowed data to be collected that made it possible to enhance customer experience.

“If you make the game better and you get the data and you know how people are playing and you make it more worthwhile for the customer, you are in the end going to get more loyal customers, more people will want to buy the game, and you will know what people want,” he said.

“I’m not saying local public services are exactly the same as that, but you begin to see that if we have a greater insight into what people want, perhaps we can do far more than we’re doing at the moment.”

Blackwell told the conference he expected changes to the way local services are provided – such as the wider proliferation of outcomes-based commissioning – to fundamentally alter  the digital platforms and  systems councils required.

“In the future, we will have to work towards common standards between public authorities,” he said.

“That will require leadership between politicians and senior officers, and a new public-service culture of sharing. 

“Looking at shared  services, Camden’s embarking on a big shared-services programme with Islington and Haringey. I think we’ll see more of that in the future. 

“The nature of that shared service – will it be run by the public or will it be a stand-alone company; what’s the scope to expand beyond that – will be a big source of debate.”  

Blackwell predicted a timescale of three-to-five years for the landscape to become clearer.

Jim Dunton

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