Anthony Singleton 09 July 2020

Fast-tracking technologies during the crisis

The way we live and the way we work has changed at a faster rate and larger scale than we could ever have imagined. Nowhere has this been more evident than within local government.

Due to COVID-19, local authorities across the UK are facing a myriad of challenges, with regulatory and societal changes happening almost daily and many having to move to a home working model overnight. For example, following Government changes to the legislations for council tax and housing benefits, local authorities were inundated with over two million new benefits claims and handled many thousands of business rate grant disbursements.

Embracing innovation and fast-tracking technologies including digitization, automation and the adoption of the cloud has meant that many local authorities have been quick to respond to the crisis and able to deliver services to ensure the most vulnerable in society were able to gain access to urgent support and payments as quickly as possible

Take digital forms, these have been widely adopted by local authorities to ease the pressure on all services. Intuitive self-serve forms for everything from revenue and benefits to applications for business grants have digitised what was previously a time-consuming paper exercise for all involved and encouraged local authorities to shift to more cost-effective digital channels with the benefits for citizens of a 24/7 service.

Automation has been introduced to reduce the amount of manual processing and checking of claims. In revenue and benefits, automation tools have enabled councils to more easily process the huge increase in volumes of housing benefit claims, council tax reduction claims and changes in circumstances. These tools mean claims can be processed for the most vulnerable members of a community within a day that would otherwise be at risk of long delays.

New customer services techniques for example online chat functions and 24/7 customer support have been adopted by local authorities keen to deal with the increase in volume of enquiries around benefits, council tax and business grants. By making customer services available online and via telephone these services are now accessible to as many citizens as possible.

Many local authorities that considered transferring data to the cloud, fast-tracked this decision during COVID-19, to enable technology upgrades and fixes to be done remotely. With minimised ‘downtime’, the local authorities benefit from improved reporting capabilities, driving better and quicker decision making, leading to improved services. The move to the cloud also provides local authorities predictive analysis and data on areas where they can optimise services and maximise spend. It can also enable better data sharing amongst local authorities.

Suffolk County Council decided to move its on-premise education software to a new cloud-based system to support the council’s statutory education functions, such as managing admissions, school transport, meals and special educational needs.

Simon Reed, head of IT service & operations at Suffolk County Council, said: 'We are constantly working with our schools to understand how services can be delivered in a more efficient way. Migrating our education services to the cloud will improve how we support schools. It will also place us in a very good position to extend our collaboration with other councils in the future.'

During the COVID-19 crisis, local government and public services have faced increasing pressure and unforeseen demand. By fast tracking new technologies and innovations, local authorities have been able to keep operations running effectively and efficiently, providing critical support to communities and citizens. During times of national crisis, it becomes even more important for those citizens to have a positive, seamless and beneficial experience and what is clear is that utilising technology has played a significant part in achieving this.

Anthony Singleton is managing director at Capita One

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