ICT key to devolution revolution

Written by Colin Marrs on 17 July 2015 in Opinion

A more collaborative future needs the right IT platform to support the transformation journey, says Andrew Hawkins.

For anyone growing weary of the never-ending narrative in local government around budget cuts the recent summer budget may have brought some good news.

Gone is the ‘more for less mantra’ which has dominated over the past five years - although it still remains a driving force for councils over the next two years.

Instead, the theme of devolution which was heralded in the March budget was given yet more prominence by the Chancellor.

With deals cut for Cornwall Council and Manchester to variously take local control of health, social services, transport and other areas, the devolution agenda is one which already has momentum.

This is set to grow further with more devolution deals in the offing in Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds and West Yorkshire.

Just as is the case with the other two big drivers for change in local government – the move to digital services and the aforementioned budget cuts – technology will provide a critical role in this area of transformation.

This is down to the simple fact that the vision for better-connected, more efficient and easy-to-access services built around local needs cannot be realised without sharing data which will enable those services.

To achieve that however, it is clear from our research into the use of technology in local government, that there needs to be a substantial change in the way decision makers in councils and their public sector partners approach IT now and in the future.

The biggest issue to grasp is that this collaborative future needs the right IT platform to support the transformation journey. The ultimate goal may be to save money and improve services but this will not happen without investment in the IT capability which will support service delivery, operations and data sharing.

A second critical issue for organisations is the need to plan for the simplification and ultimate retirement of the legacy systems which support current business operations. Not only do they cost time and money to maintain, they also present substantial barriers to collaboration across the public sector and stop IT teams from working strategically in their organisations. The best decision for many councils would be to stop investment in legacy IT from today.

The third area for change must be in the approach to IT and its role in driving transformation. Devolution is only the starting point for ongoing collaboration in the public sector. Partners will come and go, the nature of those partnerships will change and so too will be the services delivered. In that context organisations need to embrace an agile and iterative approach to technology deployment. This means the way organisations plan, budget and release funds must change to match this new way of working.

The final area to address is the nature of the teams who are responsible for transformation ahead. If the key to successful collaboration is new ways of working then it is critical that IT and HR leaders are brought to the top table as organisations engineer their plans for the future. As long as these functions are left on the sidelines – and in too many organisations this is the case - the transformation journey will be slower and more likely to fail.

Andrew Hawkins is Public Sector Director at Eduserv

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