Five ways technology could reshape local government in 2018
Where could technology and new data techniques take local government in 2018?
Local government looks set for another challenging year with budgets tight, and councils continuing to tackle digital transformation, some with more success than others. Here are my five predictions for where local authorities need to look if they are to evolve and succeed in the coming year:
We’ve already seen a degree of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) kick in during 2017, but it’s largely been in individual siloed areas. For example, at Capita we’ve helped a number of local authorities with automation around revenues and benefits, and witnessed significant success. In 2018, we’ll start to see automation spread, with consolidation across many more of the processes that local authorities run, as benefits and cost efficiencies are realised. I’d expect a push from chief executives and senior management teams to drive automation in everything they do. In 2017 they were tentative in their approach but that will change this year.
2. The single view of the citizen
This is likely to be the most important development of 2018 and probably for the next few years to come.
At present, local authorities capture data about their citizens from a range of sources. The challenge is that this data is difficult to effectively analyse and turn into valuable information unless it is joined up into one single view. That’s not currently happening. As with automation, authorities have tended to take a siloed mentality towards their data, neglecting them of a holistic view across local government.
A single view of the citizen gives a local authority the ability to become much more proactive in their approach to dealing with citizens. It allows them to gain an overall view of the support and services required and actively address needs in a timely and proactive manner, rather than relying on citizens trying to assess what is required for themselves. This will be an essential development if authorities are to evolve to where they need to be in the next five or ten years.
From my conversations with chief executives towards the end of 2017, it’s obvious that they want to pursue this single view, but it will be a challenge, culturally as well as technologically.
Within most local authorities there are approximately 300 to 400 software applications in use, with 30 or 40 being classed as business critical. So the challenge technically is to bring together all the data captured across a local authority in a manner that helps drive analytics to provide better informed decisions, especially in an environment where the data is captured in systems provided by often-competing software providers.
I suppose that challenge is more for us as software and services providers than the authorities themselves – and I do believe Capita is at the forefront of this drive towards the single view – but ultimately authorities are realising that analysing data without a single view of the citizen or of a family is limiting. Without it, they cannot spot the trends that will have an impact on the future of the activities they provide; with it, officers can analyse information in a far better, more effective and forward-thinking way. For me, it’s the big one.
3. Data analytics re-inspired
It will also be interesting to see how much more useful data analytics becomes when linked to the single view of the citizen - and how it will enable better and more wide-reaching decisions.
For example, when you can join up social care and NHS data in a single view, you can avoid someone taking up an A&E bed when they should really be in a social care environment. That has a trickle-down benefit potentially worth millions. When you can pull information together about education, health issues or housing, you can overlay analytics that will reveal why and how someone who is homeless got into that situation, and next time you can intervene before it happens. And in sheer human terms alone, that’s invaluable.
4. Channel shift reinvented
Hardly a new idea, but I think 2018 will see a change in the way local authorities approach it. For most, channel shift today is still largely about switching things online. Digital transformation has been focused on making it easier for officers to do their jobs, rather than thinking about what citizens actually want from their local authority. I see more authorities buying into the idea of having all the systems in place, across all areas of what they do, to help people interact in the way they want to. At the moment this is still a field where authorities are racing to catch up with the public, particularly in being integrated with smart phone activity.
5. The Internet of Things comes of age
Do I think it has a future? Yes I do, but until now the business case hasn’t stacked up. It’s not hard to see the benefits IoT could provide to society, but so far the costs have been prohibitive, and there’s still a cultural ‘Big Brother’ pushback to having the council put a sensor in your home.
Costs have fallen significantly in the last 12 months, and in 2018 we’ll start to see some interesting initiatives coming through, most likely in housing to begin with. Housing associations will experiment with IoT in a way that enables them to articulate at a higher level within their organisations just how it can help. Those applications will be simple to begin with – sensors that predict a boiler needs servicing before it suffers a massive failure, sensors to monitor and avoid condensation within properties – but when people realise that it’s made their home safer, more comfortable, and prevented them from being without heating for weeks, they’ll appreciate the benefits, and I suspect their attitudes will shift.
In short, technology and data techniques will drive change in local authorities in 2018 and beyond. For the best opportunity of not only evolving but also succeeding in the coming year, local authorities should focus on that which enables better informed decision making – automation, the single view of the citizen, data analytics, rethinking channel shift and the Internet of Things.
This article was first published in Government Computing