John Jervis 10 January 2020

The flexible backbone of digital transformation

There is no ultimate end goal in service transformation; it’s about continuous change and improvement. Often described as a 'journey, not a destination', we need to recognise that changing demographics and economic pressures are constantly raising new challenges for public services. Nobody can accurately predict what their own organisations will face in the future, only that they will have to be inventive in developing new behaviours and solutions.

Local authorities and other service organisations will have to reinvent their roles and focus on different outcomes for the public, with an emphasis on the roots of societal problems. This needs a culture of ongoing iteration that is ready to grasp the opportunities offered by changes in technology. It needs its digital foundation to be future proof; and be able to integrate with new technology as well as legacy systems.

It is possible to find tools that can support this approach over the medium to long term. A growing number of authorities are now utilising customer engagement platforms as a flexible backbone of their digital service transformation.

The art of the possible

By enabling a single digital window into your council, the public can see a customer portal, with a single sign-on using email or social media accounts, a single view of their interactions with the council and the ability to track progress on service requests and enquiries which, in return, means a reduction in unnecessary contact for councils.

The other big technology change is the steady shift towards the cloud. The public sector has recognised the cost savings, flexibility and security benefits of cloud and there is a consensus that this will underpin their own flexibility in using digital systems.

There is also a growing recognition of the value of APIs, the elements of software code that provide other groups or organisations with access to elements of a dataset. They facilitate data flows for a stronger integration of services and to support the evolution of new solutions.

In addition, customers’ own new developments can be undertaken with a ‘no code’ solution, providing the scope for non-techies to use the data flows in developing new service solutions. Bringing frontline staff to the forefront of service design.

However, there are series of factors that need to be considered for successful service transformation.

Collaboration

One is the necessity to break down the silos in an organisation, ensuring that executive teams work collaboratively and are willing to free up the data they hold for wider use. In some places, it demands a radical cultural shift, but if it does not happen it will smother a transformation before it even gathers steam.

Another, is the development of a strong, in-house digital capability, providing an authority with the means to draw on the knowledge of its various service teams, innovate and develop solutions that really meet the needs of local communities.

This is reflected in a trend away from large scale outsourcing, with some councils taking their digital operations back in-house and aiming to equip more staff with relevant skills.

Along with this, is the increased emphasis on agile development techniques, in which teams do not begin with a detailed specification of the desired solution but identify a desired outcome and develop the solution through a series of iterations. It is about failing fast, establishing what works and moving onto the next stage.

Related to this, is the need to move away from complex, long term procurement of IT systems, towards an emphasis on smaller, more modular procurements to run for shorter periods. This contributes to the future proofing towards service transformation, providing the scope for continual change and further innovation.

New tech

In turn, this can open up opportunities from new technologies, such as machine learning, AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things. It is impossible to foresee all of what they will offer, but the potential will increase if a local authority has a digital backbone that can integrate and harness the data they provide.

There is also a growing interest in collaboration around the use of components. While some councils have backed away from shared services, a few are experimenting with a more limited sharing of specific elements of digital infrastructure, such as web or service development platforms. This provides scope not just for savings but benefiting from others’ expertise and long-term collaborations in finding solutions.

All of this provides great opportunities to adapt, effectively providing future proofing that is essential to long term transformation. It is about a readiness to innovate, deal with cultural change and create new services to cope with emerging challenges, wherever an organisation is on its journey.

John Jervis is sales and marketing director at IEG4

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