Councils face growing technology divide with citizens, says former CIO
There is a growing digital divide between the public and local government as councils continue to grapple with how to use technology to engage with citizens and collaborate with other local other agencies to serve their communities, according to one former council chief information officer (CIO).
Mark Adams-Wright, former CIO at Suffolk County Council and now head of local government at digital communications company O2, was speaking following the launch of this year's O2 Local Government Digital Fund. The initiative invites councils from across the UK to win technology and consultancy support worth £250,000 by submitting technology solutions to drive change in their local community or organisation.
Individual councils or councils working in partnership with other local government services or agencies can enter, with finalists judged at a "Dragons' Den" style pitch event early next year. One or more winners will receive a total of £250,000 worth of technologies, business services and skills from O2 to help realise their vision.
The fund aims to help councils develop services in three categories: Mobile working, such as apps allowing healthcare workers to access patient information on the move; Connecting and communicating with citizens, for example helping people pay their council tax by mobile or tablet; and Collaborating in the workplace -developing online information sharing systems that allow teams to liaise with different departments or other agencies to resolve problems more quickly.
"There is currently a growing digital divide between local authorities and the public", Adams-Wright told UKAuthority.com this week. "I believe this is because public sector organisations are still trying to understand the best way of embracing digital engagement with citizens. In addition, it is no secret that local authorities are under more pressure than ever to improve efficiencies across departments with reduced budgets.
"We believe that the right investment in digital technology can have a real impact on social value."
This year's fund was focused on enabling collaboration to improve public services, as a benefit that technology is well suited to enable, he said. "Digital services can create collaborations that benefit entire communities. There are many opportunities to work alongside community partners such as police services, healthcare trusts and third sector organisations - partners who can bring valuable experience, skills and inspiration to new initiatives."
This year marks the second year that O2 has run the Future Fund, first launched in 2012 as part of the Local Government Futures Forum to help boost innovation and service delivery.
Last year three councils shared the prize to develop innovative projects focusing on the theme of efficiency and social engagement: Reading won £125,000; Merthyr Tydfil and Vale of Glamorgan secured £75,000 and Luton £50,000.
Pictured: Mark Adams-Wright, Head of Local Government, O2
Local Government Digital Fund: www.o2.co.uk/lgdf