In October 2013, the Department for Communities and Local Government released Local Digital Today, an in-depth research report into councils’ attitudes towards using digital to improve local public services. It is an important snapshot of the sector, particularly as central government is encouraging the adoption of a ‘Digital by Default’ agenda when providing services.
One of the key takeaways from the report is the significant number of barriers councils feel stand between them and making services Digital by Default. They include:
- Legacy systems and IT infrastructure
- Culturally uncomfortable for organisations
- Unwillingness to change / non-cooperation of colleagues
- Lack of leadership (senior management / elected councillors)
- Inflexible procurement processes
- Lack of in-house digital skills
However, we would argue that many of these problems are a legacy of the way the public sector procured and implemented digital solutions in the past – and can be overcome relatively easily.
To give an example, consider a council that has bought into a self-hosted software package, such as a customer database. The following list of common issues often occurs in such a scenario:
- The tender process eats up a significant amount of time and resources
- The implementation is an expensive undertaking and requires costly customisation
- The ‘go-live’ date overruns
- The interface is hard to use
- Staff become frustrated by lack of support and training
- Costly updates mean the system becomes out of date and insecure
- Staff can only use the system from their office terminals
When scenarios like that happen – and they have been sadly common in the public sector as a whole – staff morale drops, employees lose faith in IT initiatives, and digital solutions become viewed as a necessary evil, rather than as an opportunity to innovate, deliver cost savings and improve services.
Fortunately, software and attitudes are moving on fast, and it’s now much easier to change organisational culture for the better – thanks to the advent of the Cloud and software such as Kahootz, which allows you collaborate online with any number of colleagues or stakeholders.
The Cloud – transforming ‘digital first’ culture
In recent years, Cloud software has transformed the way the public sector – including local authorities – procure and use IT systems. Indeed, central government has a target to shift 50% of all IT spending to Cloud services by 2015.
The biggest step change took place in 2012 when the government launched the G-Cloud CloudStore – an online marketplace of government-approved Cloud software, including many innovative solutions offered by SMEs (approximately 80% of the total) as well as the major software houses.
The CloudStore eliminates at a stroke some of the identified key barriers to creating a ‘Digital First’ or ‘Digital by Default’ culture. For example:
- Inflexible procurement processes. CloudStore suppliers are government approved and easily searchable. Many systems have government-approved security and offer free trials, so you can test out software rigorously and at no cost during your procurement process.
- Legacy systems and infrastructure. Cloud software is accessible via the web, not installed on your own servers. This means that you can connect securely to Cloud systems using any almost web browser on any web-enabled device, from PCs and laptops to tablets and smartphones. Software updates are applied automatically, so frustrating legacy systems become a thing of the past. As an added benefit, staff can use Cloud systems from any location and while on the move.
- Culturally uncomfortable for organisations. CloudStore procurement empowers managers and other employees, and not just your IT department. Because Cloud solutions are externally hosted, little technical knowledge is required to trial and use them,allowing colleagues across your authority to experiment and innovate.
- Lack of in-house digital skills. A lot of Cloud software is simple to use, meaning much less training (if any) is needed for staff to put Cloud solutions to work.
These positives can also have a transformative effect on employee morale and help embed the ‘Digital First’ agenda at the heart of their working practices.
We’ve regularly seen this in action as local authorities and other public sector bodies start using Kahootz’s online collaboration software to transform the way they think, work and achieve.
To give just a few examples (for more, see our free guide Creating a digital strategy for local government):
- Staff can work flexibly and on the move. Kahootz cloud collaboration software has remote working at its core. With government-accredited security, it allows team members to collaborate using a PC in the office or at home, and while using tablets or smartphones when travelling. Organisations like Havant Borough Council and East Hampshire District Council have taken this business requirement one step further by using Kahootz to support the development of new shared services. It is now much easier for relevant staff across both councils to work seamlessly together, irrespective of where they are located.
- Collaboration delivers more for less. By improving internal and external collaboration between staff and key stakeholders who have shared common interests, you create an environment of idea sharing that can lead to service innovation and cost savings. A service called Fleetcol, which has been built on Kahootz, allows local authorities across London to share details of their intended fleet vehicle buying. This means they can now team up with other authorities and professional buying organisations to coordinate opportunities for bulk buying identical vehicles at the same time, resulting in a better overall discount from suppliers.
- It’s easier for citizens to interact. Citizens now expect, and increasingly demand, a more interactive and engaging experience when dealing with their local authority. Quite often their level of involvement will be determined by their interest in a particular subject matter. For example, South Gloucestershire Council is currently using Kahootz to support 20 location-based Safer, Stronger Groups. These online groups are used to share meeting notes, promote funding opportunities, and publish issues raised during meetings along with a wide range of useful information. For residents who are unable to get to face-to-face meetings, these online communities provide an invaluable way to get involved and have a say via discussion forums and online surveys. (You’ll find many more examples of citizen interaction in our guide, Transforming public sector stakeholder engagement).
In summary, once public sector organisations begin to use online collaboration tools, it quickly fosters a culture of innovation that breaks down many of the currently perceived barriers to Digital by Default.
You can make it happen too, so why not #Giveitago in your authority today? Sign up for your Kahootz free trial and you could be experiencing new ways of working within minutes!