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The council of the future – driving value through digitisation

Digital is affecting every part of councils and, by 2030, we won’t ‘do digital’ we will be digital.

At the recent workshop I held, as part of techUK’s public services 2030 conference, I talked about the importance of digital leadership to drive value from digitisation, and the particular challenges for the public sector.

Public sector organisations drive value in three ways, including the standard delivery of council services but also recognising:

  1. the more complex stakeholder and delivery environment where services are delivered through others
  2. the development of infrastructure (physical and economic)
  3. social value (protecting society's most vulnerable) [1].  

Digitisation drives value in each of these areas:

  • delivery of services – the council’s own (internal) digital transformation of services as well as working through others (on-line self-services, automation and workforce management)
  • development of infrastructure – smart cities development (eg, intelligent infrastructure, sensors) and Economic development (eg, technology parks and university collaborations)
  • social value evidence-based policy making which relies on data insights capabilities such as digital dashboards, segmentation or prediction.

We had many earlier sessions talking about the availability of new disruptive technologies and the emerging GovTech market. The question for our session was ‘what does it take for a council to fully harness this capability and drive public value today?’.

The starting point to this journey is digital leadership – the leadership to take the council on its digital journey, to build new skills and capabilities, to learn and to grow. This is a multi-year journey, which needs to be started now.

At Capita, we define four stages of transformation: digital readiness, digital pragmatism, service redesign and future model – each stage is based on the learning and capabilities of the previous one and needs to be underpinned by a growing ‘digital mindset’.

[1] See Alford, J. Towards a new Public Management Model: Beyond Managerialism” and its critics, Australian Journal of Public Administration, 1993.

Digital readiness – requires the ability to make the case for change. This stage is about understanding and articulating the potential of digital. Digital leadership here requires the right mindset and understanding:

  • what are the outcomes needed for citizens and the council?
  • what are the customer journeys that need to be delivered?
  • how can the customer experience be improved and costs reduced? 

Digital pragmatism – ensures that value is extracted early. How can you get value from your assets today? We often find clients have implemented digital programmes but have not taken them through to the point where they can extract the customer service improvements of cost savings – often by redeploying staff to more value-added areas. 

Digital leadership here is about establishing the right capabilities and processes to drive value:

  • understanding customer needs and demand managing failure demand, which is demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer in the first instance
  • capturing and routing work electronically and / or automation of high volume / manual processes
  • understanding the remaining manual workload and performance and scheduling this to the right people with the right skills.  

Service redesign – involves re-thinking these services from an end-to-end basis, embodying new ways of working and partners as necessary. This includes:

  • building digital capabilities / skills
  • data-driven decision making
  • stronger integration across the organisation, partners/ ecosystem and other councils. 

Future model – capabilities are needed to respond and reconfigure to the emerging market place and new technologies to work with partners and preventative measures. It’s about sustainability and exploring new models of public service.

In an environment of tight fiscal constraint and staff shortages, the first steps are often the hardest.  We see successful councils are already on the journey. Typically, this is a virtuous cycle of starting with their own organisational transformation, which builds confidence and starts the cultural change for citizens in how they interact with the council, and council staff in how they interact with citizens.

Council-wide transformation requires a significant change across people, process and technology, requiring new skills and an influx of resources to then re-train and release capacity for subsequent changes.

Some councils are using partnerships to support, scale and accelerate this change to drive the journey. With one of most recent programmes we were able to:

  • bring our experience of what works 
  • bring in new skills (business psychology, lean, data analytics, agile delivery)
  • work together to evaluate opportunities in their environment
  • scale digital delivery and move to agile working practices.

This presents a new virtuous cycle of leadership, learning and delivery. Allowing confidence and re-investment.

So, while the role of the future council remains centred on better services, improved infrastructure and improving equity, digital will play an increasingly integral role to that. Digital leadership is fundamental to take the organisation on this journey, reconfiguring people, process and technology in a virtuous cycle to create capacity and drive behavioural change for staff and citizens. And partnering provides one approach for supporting, scaling and accelerating this journey.

Photo of Peter J Reynolds

Peter J Reynolds

Digital transformation director, Capita

Peter has over 20 years’ experience delivering large scale digital programmes across local government, central government and financial services. He recently led the Southampton Digital Transformation Programme which was awarded the 'Best Digital and Technology Project' across public and private sector in the UK by the Management Consultancies Association for 2017, and 'Best Use of Agile' in the public sector 2016.

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