Trends in local government

Eight post-pandemic digital trends for 2021 and beyond

Tim Pitts, Senior Partner at Agilisys, details the fundamental shifts in local government IT and the digital trends he predicts will come to the fore as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown how, faced with necessity and a healthy dose of crisis, local and regional government […]

Tim Pitts, Senior Partner at Agilisys, details the fundamental shifts in local government IT and the digital trends he predicts will come to the fore as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown how, faced with necessity and a healthy dose of crisis, local and regional government can deliver change at pace. The speed of transformation, the creativity, innovation and the desire to make projects work has been truly phenomenal.

Technology has, of course, been front and centre of these rapid developments and it will be interesting to see the lasting impact the last year will have on IT and digital across the sector. Here’s how I predict it will play out.

1. The changing role of IT and digital will be accelerated

Thanks to the accelerated modernisation of IT – cloud migration, adoption of the latest modern workforce technologies such as M365, moving networks to modern SD-WAN within a zero-trust environment and so on – IT departments are showing a clear desire to pivot away from being a function that’s about feeding and watering boxes and wires, to one which is around driving digital capabilities for the organisation. There’s more on this later.

It’s clear from the work we’re doing with local authorities that the most ambitious have already laid the groundwork. They’ve stripped out so much cost and noise from the system that they are set up to become digital enablers. Crucially, they’ve also started to shift their thinking.

2. We’ll see more CIOs and CDIOs at board level

The CIOs and CDIOs that are in demand and doing well are the ones that have done the mental flip and recognise how and why the world isn’t just about looking after the infrastructure. These CIOs are the ones thinking differently about where the organisation could go and what their leadership can do for them.

Councils that get this are putting their tech leaders on the board – you cannot pivot your business models, dare I say it akin to the way that Amazon and Uber have, without having the digital leadership properly challenging the business to re-think. You just need to look at which businesses are doing well in the private sector, and they’re all underpinned by huge digitisation. While local authorities are very, very different from the private sector, there is no reason the thinking, approach and much of the technologies can’t be applied to local government.

3. Tactical digitisation will drive the customer experience

The scale of digital opportunities is vast, as is the ever-increasing range of technological options. We are already starting to see a very noticeable change which is more about the way people are approaching the problem than it is about technology itself.

For example, how do you start connecting services, data and content to change the interactions with your customers to be pre-emptive? How do you leverage one contact and the data you’ve got on that customer to make the customer’s life simpler across all their transactions? How do you use the tools at your disposal to create the digital experience that citizens expect? All of these provide much lower cost methods of managing contact than traditional methods, while also delivering a significantly better customer experience.

4. Tech-led demand prediction will be critical

Given the challenge of demand versus resource, using technology to get ahead of the curve and being able to pre-empt and automate demand is vital. The good news is that a huge proportion of the interactions with citizens and businesses can be pre-empted and automated to make their lives easier by removing multiple steps out of the process.

Post-pandemic this is important for several reasons. You need to put resilience into your services because demand will inevitably creep back up. Being able to automate decisions such as planning applications will speed up your economy which is in desperate need of acceleration, pre-empting and pre-authorising processes such as blue badges or parking will revolutionise the customer journey, and automating the validation of any care related services will strip out weeks of uncertainty and hardship for many.

5. Strategic leaps of faith will come into play

Tying pre-emptive demand and enabling capabilities together, strategic leaps of faith will be needed. For true lasting change, digital leaders will need to look at the system and use the information available to understand where the demand is coming from, not just a week before, but four or five years out.

Adult Social Care is a good example. Using data, and ideally working as part of an integrated care system, you can understand what the demand is going to be by person. I want to know who ‘Molly’ is, I want to know roughly when she’s likely to hit the system and what support she’ll need, who is best placed to support, and where the world of IoT and in-home tech solutions can really come into their own. This is a good example of a game-changing operational pivot that will require very difficult decisions as you need to believe that this investment today will pay off in the future vs dealing with the multiple fires that are present every day.

6. A fundamental change in skillsets will happen

Continuing the adult social care example, an authority can theoretically cut the number of adult social care workers considerably through the use of technology. With sensors, IoT, video technology and automation transforming work, the skills needed in teams will shift dramatically. I see this as a key opportunity. It’s very hard to get hold of good social care staff, but if these can be replaced by data specialists, analysts and home tech specialists, it shifts the narrative completely and can deal with a much wider range of challenges such as isolation, dementia etc.

Data is an interesting one for me. Organisations are recognising the power of what you can do with data, but we’re still just scratching the surface, to be honest. Without doubt, the biggest support Agilisys is asked for now is around data and insight, and we only expect that demand to grow.

7. Discussions will move beyond the cloud

The reality is you’ve got to move to the cloud if you are to become a true digital enabler and drive the tactical ambitions mentioned above, and for most this has already become a hygiene factor.

For example, if you want to do proper machine learning to predict demand or understand how to communicate with people on an individual basis, you just can’t afford the computing power to do it properly (not to mention the significant security advantages etc.). At the same time, all the spend on innovation is in the cloud – there are hundreds of digital services released every quarter by all the big platforms and very few of them are built with on-premises usage in mind. The big three cloud providers spent just under £70bn on development last year – that’s a figure all authorities need to be taking advantage of, and one that we expect to see authorities leverage.

A great example was one authority that used cloud-based infrastructure to cut the cost of their CCTV infrastructure by 75%, saving millions of pounds per annum.

8. The climate emergency will drive transformation

The climate emergency is another hot topic. Well over 100 authorities have declared a climate emergency, in which case, moving to the cloud is a no-brainer. All three big cloud providers have declared they’ll be carbon negative by 2030, let alone carbon neutral, so it’s yet another compelling reason to head to the cloud.

There are, of course, many other post-pandemic digital trends predictions that could be added to this list, but the COVID-19 legacy will be far-reaching and drive lasting changes across local government.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss how you think your local authority will change – and how the latest technology can help you get there. Contact us today to arrange a one-to-one or to find out more about our regular innovation workshops.