Public sector IT association Socitm has warned of a hazardous financial situation for suppliers of IT systems in social care.
It has published a white paper, Digital Social Work: Systems and technology, on the outlook for the sector in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the findings from a series of interviews with representatives of local authorities.
The white paper covers the shape of the market, showing how many councils take the various systems on offer, and looks at the key issues.
It says social care IT requirements change frequently due to demands from central government and shifting local priorities, that stronger suppliers are quicker to change, but each company has finite resources for software development and customer support. At the same time, local authorities have less money to spend on IT due to the squeeze on their finances, which makes the market for software procurement and maintenance very competitive, and several companies have dropped out in recent years.
There are also different pressures on systems for adult social care, which are increasingly being required to share information with the NHS, and those for children to be used in a joined up approach with educations services.
The paper says there is little clarity around the ‘right’ level of spending for social care IT to get the best from a typical five-year investment programme.
Subsequently, it says the suppliers that are part of a wider group structure may be more financially stable.
Among the key features to emerge from the interviews is that the response to the pandemic has shown new ways of working were essential and are likely to become more permanent, that a number of local authorities have business transformation project underway to support the trend, and that a digitised ‘front door’ for service users and practitioners is becoming more essential.
In addition, social workers are more ‘digital ready’ than previously thought and service and IT managers need to get more engaged in identifying opportunities for digital improvements. The latter is not just in improving service management and client outcomes, but in projecting what the future shape of social care could be.
The white paper’s conclusion acknowledges that investing in the systems and technology for social care is a difficult choice under the prevailing pressures, and that this is inhibiting innovation.
But it adds: “Better value for money and improved organisational performance might be achieved from systems and technology in the wider sense when there is more leadership and skilled resources focused on it.
“This should be alongside a clearer approach to information management in its broadest sense, ideally developed through an information strategy linked to business strategy and service objectives.”
Image from iStock, Pornpak Kurnaton