Industry voice: There is great scope for wider sharing of local government’s digital successes, writes Richard Shipton, director of local government at Hitachi Solutions
Despite the local variations, there are a lot of common problems in local government. Councils face similar challenges in streamlining their internal operations, and reducing the cost of service delivery in which they are largely treading on the same ground, with the potential to find shared solutions.
A major technology trend is expanding this potential, as increasingly authorities explore reducing their reliance on specialised line of business systems and adopt digital platforms with a wide range of functions and the flexibility to deal with multiple processes.
As they adopt common, cloud based platforms they have the scope to work together and share the solutions to common problems. This can take some of the heavy work out of digital transformation, enable them to draw on each other’s expertise and achieve significant savings.
Some councils are already taking this approach following their implementation of Microsoft Dynamics 365, the combination of customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning applications that is becoming increasingly popular in local government. It has a diverse array of functions and features, the flexibility to adapt to a wide range of processes and emerging technologies, and the capacity when needed to link with other systems as part of a wider digital infrastructure, all of which enable it to facilitate core functions in local services.
A focus on this core commonality opens a door for sharing between local authorities. As individual councils use it to solve problems or improve a service they can share their learning and solutions with others, helping to reduce the overall investment in effort and money for the whole sector.
This potential has been explored in a white paper, Sharing on a common platform, researched and written by UKAuthority with the support of Hitachi Solutions. It highlights the benefits such as providing the single view of the citizen, enabling the retirement of legacy systems, facilitating analytics, supporting an agile approach to service development, and laying the ground for process automation and the use of emerging technologies. The fact that many functions can be configured on Dynamics 365, rather than requiring in-depth coding, also supports the development of in-house capabilities.
But it also shows that it needs effective mechanisms and positive attitudes towards sharing, and traditionally efforts to establish these in local government have had only sporadic success.
This derives from a number of issues: authorities struggling to identify a common starting point for building solutions; complex questions around the intellectual property rights and licensing arrangements for solutions; who should be responsible for their support and maintenance; and a longstanding cultural resistance in local government to sharing, especially when it becomes entangled with party politics.
Steps to progress
But when there’s a will there’s a way. The white paper identifies key steps to making progress, such as making an early decision to share solutions, building in-house skills, demonstrating a potential return on investment, analysing processes with an eye to commonality, and creating shared transformation roadmaps. Of course, sharing learning and skills would play an important part, especially if supported by a solutions and process library.
Some authorities are showing the ambition to make it happen. Shropshire Council is developing solutions on Dynamics 365 and is actively seeking to share with others, as demonstrated by the workshop it staged with Hitachi Solutions. This brought together representatives from several authorities and involved demonstrations of solutions built by councils on the platform. Hitachi Solutions attended to represent the commercial supplier’s point of view, helping the group to explore how shareable solutions can be built in a way that works for both private and public sector at the same time.
Some interesting perspectives emerged. Andrew Boxall, Shropshire’s technology and communications service manager, says it highlighted the potential for collaboration between local authorities, the improvement of services and opportunities to do more for customers while saving money.
Dawn Keeley, IT development manager of Dudley Council, says that when another authority has developed a solution it provides something to show to a business team as a starting point, asking how close it is to what they want to achieve. This contrasts with the purely theoretical approach of examining possible solutions through business process analysis.
Another derived from the contribution from Colchester Borough Council, which has moved its website to Dynamics 365 and wants to migrate its CRM and online forms to the platform. This is fuelling the idea that it could be capable of taking on almost all of its digital functions.
Helen Wood, digital transformation officer of Telford & Wrekin Council, says there can be a great benefit in taking a solution developed by another council and tweaked “rather than working from a blank page”.
Hitachi Solutions aims to support this approach, encouraging councils to share solutions and develop their in-house capabilities, but contributing ideas and troubleshooting when required. It wants to help councils get to grips with Dynamics 365, use its expertise to help them get the best out of it, and over time help them understand how to build their own capability. They can then share solutions with each other.
As a first step to learning more about the potential you can download the white paper via the form under the video. You can also hear the thoughts of councils attending the Shropshire Council sharing event:
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