Driving digital transformation with mounting cost pressures and worker shortages…how can councils do it?

30th August 2022

Mark Gannon

by Mark Gannon

Local authorities in the UK have seen a 37% reduction in core grants since 2010 — and a near 38% reduction in staff since 1999. As a growing population places higher expectations on local government, councils have less people (and money) to service demands. The question has turned into one of survival, as a £2.4 billion increase in inflationary costs threatens to push many English councils into bankruptcy.

Now is the time to digitise

Local authorities play a vital role in citizen wellbeing, providing social care, education, housing and planning, and more. The importance of our councils was never clearer than during the pandemic as many were forced to accelerate digitalisation, to serve growing demands of citizens. We saw some great examples from local authorities that were quick to pivot. Croydon Council rapidly changed tack, developing 10 applications in nine months to support vulnerable residents and local businesses.

With a looming recession (and possibly another era of public sector austerity), local authorities are again faced with the critical question: How do we get digital transformation right?

It’s never been more important to replace costly and ineffective legacy systems and drive digital transformation. You don’t have to choose between diverting money from critical services or putting digitalisation on the back burner. With the right approachdigital transformation becomes a seamless value-adding experience.

Developing the right strategy and finding the right solution

I believe there are five key criteria that make it possible for councils to digitalise — whilst delivering rapid ROI, cutting costs and enhancing services for citizens:

A committed partner

Don’t underestimate the value of a digital transformation partner who is dedicated to helping councils deliver impactful outcomes. Such a partner can employ proven expertise to address their challenges. Because these suppliers care about council outcomes, they’re always on the lookout for innovative ways to help councils improve services for citizens and reduce costs.

A comprehensive, value-adding low-code platform

The right solution must be flexible, integrated, and offer substantial value-add within a short timeframe. Rather than having hundreds of disparate applications that can’t work together, a low-code platform integrates with all systems — enabling councils to extract more value from their digital solutions. Data can move freely and deliver true end-to-end experiences for citizens.

Local authorities can use low-code to build full-stack applications 3-10 times faster than with standard development. Its integrative capacity — combined with RPA and AI tools — unleashes scalable intelligent automation capabilities and delivers rich insights on data. This data can be used to predict citizen needs, improve services and optimise processes, driving efficiency and alleviating the burden on understaffed councils.

Delivering omnichannel service, you’ll have visibility across all communication channels. AI-assisted solutions can streamline services, triage incoming cases and support self-service — so workers can focus on more complex tasks or offline enquiries. And with every step along the automation journey, local authorities see higher ROIs, more savings and better services for their citizens. Plus, these savings can be repurposed into more tech investments, creating a positive feedback loop (or boosting the bottom line). Either way, local authorities win and citizens are the beneficiaries.

A cost-saving model

A licensing model for a solution that allows councils to build and expand digitalisation as much as they want (without any additional fee) can deliver a cost-saving model. This puts the digital transformation journey in the hands of councils. With more autonomy, local authorities can update their own applications to accommodate new policies and processes, avoiding additional fees from legacy licensors.

Through the right low-code solution, total cost of ownership is reduced and return on investment is increased as more applications are built. As councils use low-code to build modern digital applications, they can decommission costly legacy applications, saving money on licensing and maintenance. Croydon Council, for example, has saved £1.5 million per year just by decommissioning one legacy application.

Training for self-sufficiency

To effectively take control of digitalisation, councils need a partner that offers quality training. This makes low-code development accessible to council workers who may lack developer experience.

In one brilliant example, a council worker went from measuring beach erosion to becoming a senior member of the central digital team.

With some quality training and development, existing council workers are able to start building applications within days.

Facilitating collaboration

The right partner will foster collaboration between, and within, councils across local government. Such a partner:

  • Creates ongoing dialogue to understand council goals, and works together to deliver on objectives
  • Fosters opportunities for app sharing and communication across councils — using modifiable, pre-built apps to save development time and make ROIs faster. (Adur & Worthing Councils, for example, created and shared an app to refer people out of GP surgeries to non-medical community services instead, saving valuable GP time)
  • Enables organisations to bring non-IT workers into the development process, driving collaboration and innovation, while letting IT deal with governance and complex matters

It’s all about the citizen

The best solution will allow you to maximise positive changes for the citizen. If a solution doesn’t do that, then it’s not the right fit. As a former CIO in local government — with first-hand experience trying to solve these problems without the right tools — I know the best combination of solution and partnership can make all the difference. And the result is self-sufficiency for councils and a cost-effective estate. As local authority resources shrink, councils will be left behind if they don’t innovate. And when quality solutions are paired with ambition, the power of low-code for local government is truly impressive.

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