Posts Tagged ‘Local Authority’
So how was today for you? Did it meet your expectations? Was there something lacking, something unexpected? or was it as planned?
I spent today at the LGA Conference in Bournemouth, talking to councillors and finding out what Digital Inclusion actually means to them. For me it was a very worthwhile exercise. What made it more interesting was the challenge that Digital Inclusion is facing in today’s councils.
Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State, announced a series of measures and strategies to put the ‘local’ back in ‘Local Authority’, to remove centralised control and encourage community responsibility. He is now challenging councils to come up with ways to deliver more of what the voters need rather than what Whitehall wants. (See here for the full speech.)
This freedom is allowing Councils to choose where to invest and how much to invest. They are now looking for the magic business case to please the electorate while saving money and delivering better services. It’s now time for Digital Inclusion to step up to the mark.
How can Digital Inclusion deliver the magic business case? I don’t think that it can. Eric Pickles challenges Councils to “Show me the money”, Digital Inclusion cannot do that, but let me ask you, dear reader, what do the people want?
Digital Inclusion changes lives; Digital Inclusion saves costs from occurring; Digital Inclusion can save a Council money, but probably in ways you may have never thought.
The councillors I talked to today feel into 3 categories:
- We’ve already done that, we’re efficient as we can be
They were the ones that walked away, not willing to listen or be challenged. How are these Councils going to make savings, deliver what the voters want, if they’re not willing to listen to or learn from other local authorities? Or if they are as efficient willing to share that knowledge. I won’t dwell on this point.
- I love ICT, I appreciate the benefits let’s get Digital Inclusion out there
I cannot deny that these councillors were my favourite to talk to, and it is great to hear some of the projects that are going on elsewhere across the country to engage the community digitally.
- I don’t know about Digital Inclusion – Tell me more
These councillors I respect the most. They took the time to learn more and each time, I am proud to say, I could see some real recognition coming across their faces as they started to understand how Digital Inclusion could be made to work for them. They happily accepted the challenges that I put to them, they pictured the projects and examples working in their area and went away realising that Digital Inclusion, may not be the golden ostrich egg but could well be a stream of golden hummingbird eggs waiting to fall into their laps.
So what will tomorrow bring? I don’t know, but I do know that I will be looking to challenge more councillors about Digital Inclusion and, hopefully, talking more with those who have gone away tonight and thought about what I have said.
Till next time, or if you’re in Bournemouth – tomorrow!
I am currently exhibiting on the Digital Inclusion Stand in the Purbeck Room at the LGA Conference, you can find me there.
This week I will be attending the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) Annual Conference in Brighton.
A lot has been happening in recent months, not least the demand that all chief executives face – do more for less.
I am interested to see how feedback from other events, such as the SOCITM Conference and Digital Britain will be demonstrated on this high power stage.
The people who attend today have the final say about what programmes for transformation stay and which ones go. ICT has a huge part to play in the future local government and I hope that the case for ICT will be put across fairly and that the delegates will have an opportunity to ask and understand how ICT will affect their authority.
If you’re around feel free to stop by and say Hi! I will be on the Digital Inclusion stand or you can follow me on twitter. Some of us will be trying to give live feedback using the twitter hashtag #solace09.
I recently performed some business analysis for Solihull Council to investigate sharing services with Lichfield District Council. The aim of the project was for Solihull to host the financial systems of Lichfield allowing secure access to Lichfied’s staff to perform business as usual. My role was to challenge the concept and the parties involved to ensure that everyone knew what they will about to undertake and that it was possible depending on the timescales, costs and resources. I am pleased to say that since performing the analysis both councils agreed to enter into a contract.
The project reminded me of a time when I worked for a hosted software provider as the concepts were the same, one company would provide a technical solution for another, to be accessed in a secure manner over a network. The project got me thinking further about the possibility of local authorities starting to enter the Software as a Service (SaaS) market, providing services for other councils.
Many private sector SaaS providers would love to capture the Local Authority market, however it would be one of the most challenging markets to try to enter. Many factors prevent these players reaching the starting blocks including local and central government security concerns, complex business processes, risk adverse councils, funding issues, internal resources and the requirement for reliability. Many of these are genuine and some are resultant of the cautious nature of Local Authorities.
One option for local authorities would be to work together to gain efficiencies from existing systems by utilising their existing capacity to meet the needs of another authority. In the local authority market there are a small number of large suppliers providing a small number of systems to a large number of councils supporting the complex business processes undertaken to meet the needs of the local community and also government. Many of the local authorities have support arrangements in place, either internally or with 3rd party providers, and they all have defined their own processes based on best practice and guidance. This means that they already have the in house skills and expertise to make a shared service solution work.
Business analysis would need to be undertaken to ensure that the councils involved are ready to commit and understand, not only the benefits, but also the responsibility of such an agreement. It is in these situations that a business analyst will be challenged. When performing the work for Solihull and Lichfield I went in to the project with a skeptical, but open mind and I looked for proof and assurance that what was being proposed could be delivered. I challenged the expectations of both parties and made sure that the objectives were understood and agreed. It came as no surprise to me that the expectations of both sides were different and this was one of the key roles of my analysis to define.
I do believe that Local Authorities have the capability to work together and take advantage of enterprise wide systems that have been put in place. As councils are being challenged to deliver more for less this sort of option is becoming more a route to be investigated.
I was recently made aware of Bracknell Forest Council Web Development Blog by a tweet from someone who is working towards encouraging councils to become more social. This got me thinking about the work Bracknell Forest are doing and also the work of organisations such as MySociety and FillThatHole as a way of empowering the citizen to interact more with their local authority.
Such sites and projects raise questions about the response the local authority will give to the information that is delivered from a variety of sources.
Firstly, what happens if the local authority chooses to ignore the information submitted? In which case the site is outdated unless a third party takes the time to update and respond where possible. There’s a number of ways that council can choose to respond to submitted information which could include RSS feeds giving updated status, or automatic emails reporting changes to the status of the call, or more complex solutions such as full interfaces allowing integration between trusted sites and the local authority. All these ways of interfacing and responding will have to be processed by the 3rd party site – but getting a response in the first place is the biggest battle.
Secondly, why are such sites successful in the first place? I believe the answer is simple - sites such as FixMyStreet offer an interface for members of the public to report problems to their local authority in a way that they want. I am sure that citizens are not deliberately shunning the council in favour of a different site it is just that the council does not have the same interfaces as the public expect. The solution for local authorities is just as simple – adapt! – change the website to meet the requirements of the pubic and learn from those sites that have gone before and developed public solutions.
There is a mindset that Local Authorities are a service delivery just as any other company such as telecoms, high street shops, utilities etc.. whereby the customer can sit back and expect everything to be delivered without having to lift a finger and having the right to complain should something not be done right.
In a way this is true – however citizens, and businesses, need to update their opinion of the council and realise that they are not customers but actually shareholders and need to take an active part in the running of the organsiation. As with any company the better the relationship with its shareholders and customers the better the service will become. The organisation relies on feedback to improve the services delivered, without that feedback the organisation needs to beome a mind-reader. There is a limited number of ways that
Citizens need to become more involved and be prepared to take responsibility for their actions - no longer is it ‘The Council’ it should now be ‘Our council’ and the work done by Bracknell Forest and other authorities are helping breaking down the barriers.