Socitm conference: councils 'still battling' multiple channel shift barriers

Written by Jim Dunton on 21 April 2016 in News
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Local authorities in England face at least a dozen distinct barriers to fully harnessing the power of digital service-delivery, according to research presented at Socitm’s spring conference.

Principal challenges include placing a focus on departmental structures rather than the requirements of service-users, a failure to see digital service delivery as core, and a lack of management support.

Stephen Morgan, co-founder of software developer, service provider, and consultant Squiz, told the April 21 event that the tender processes councils used for developing online services were also a constraint on channel-shift.

He said survey responses from more than 600 of the business’ customers - IT professionals, communication professionals and senior executives - had shed light on some of the challenges the public sector was facing in developing  its digital offer.

“The private sector has invested very heavily in creating unified customer experiences and in unifying the different channels that people operate with them on,” he said.

“But government hasn't been able to keep up, mainly through lack of investment.”

Morgan said respondents reported that local government websites were insufficiently citizen-focused at a time when user expectations were rising. 

“They felt that their website was built for the council and not the citizen; that people were designing websites based on departmental objectives within the council: individual service lines, individual departments, and individual needs,” he said.


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Morgan added that some respondents had reported that  their authority’s website was seen as a luxury “something to be invested in, but not too much”. 

He said his local authority - which he declined to name - had excellent digital kiosks at its offices, but did not make such digital services accessible via a smartphone.

“They're trying to get me to use digital services and not go in person,” he said. “But the easiest thing for me is to go up there and get what I want done. The digital channel is not a luxury - it needs to be invested in just as heavily as the in-person experience.”

Other survey findings included a lack of leadership in the “middle management tier” of councils, meaning that digital services were not backed to go after their stated goals.

Morgan said that IT procurement processes used by the public sector were often too prescriptive at the tender stage, as a means to define budget limits, but that the effect ran counter to the principles of Agile collaborative development.

“Upfront budget demands [deny] the fact that digital transformation is a journey, not a destination,” he said.  

“If you told a vendor like us 'here are some outcomes that we'd like to achieve, but we've also set aside some Agile budget to respond to things as they come up', we would give you a much better response than we would to [a fixed tender],” he said.  “It creates barriers, and we can't work together.”

Morgan said that unintegrated systems that resulted from siloed service delivery could mean that councils needed to change their operational structures for digital transformation to be effective.

“To drive channel shift, you need to have a framework and a complete approach to digital transformation, which often includes a management change programme as well,” he said. 

“Having a unified approach to all of that will allow you to achieve this goal of channel shift. 

“Its about transforming our own organisations and unifying them, so that they can then be presented to the public in a unified manner and in a way that they can interact with.”

Other barriers identified by the Squiz research included dealing with legacy systems, fear of change, and badly-communicated change.

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