The local council challenge: Modernising on a shoestring budget

Last time, we discussed a litany of challenges facing local councils. In particular, the competing pressures to cut costs and change the very paradigm of service delivery – a shift that requires additional spending. It doesn’t necessarily matter that the technology that drives digital transformation saves money and time in the long run. Making such a shift still requires additional funding outlays and training for staff at a time when it can be a struggle to keep up with workloads (likely because they do not have the best tools to do their jobs).

The reality of making changes while struggling to keep up also forces local councils to choose their paths forward carefully. Pick the wrong technology tools or trends to embrace and you face the possibility that many years could pass before you can afford the time and funds to select another path.

Fortunately, local councils are not on this road alone. Many service delivery agencies in several countries have faced this same problem and have moved forward. Call it a digital transformation or just the next logical evolution in service delivery, the point is that others have uncovered approaches and solutions that can help the local service delivery agency deal with pressures from states and citizens – and even the drumbeat of analysts who look to the next wave of technology.

5 ways to modernise

So, what can local councils learn from these sources? Here are five principles to consider:

1. Pick a technology tool that improves services for customers and improves the situation for staff

With unlimited funds and time, you might choose to buy small solutions, unique to a process or a program, seemingly nimble and fast to deploy. Unfortunately, this creates a set of disparate tools that have customers and staff jumping between programs and burdens IT staff with many more solutions to support, secure, update and manage.

The low price of many of these solutions is tempting, but the IT sprawl they create is not a sustainable long-term path.

2. Beware of custom code solutions and integrations

Your procurement process will likely turn up many solution providers who will assure you that you can do anything with their software. That may be true, but your follow-up questions should then include:

  • How long will that take?
  • How much will that cost?
  • What happens if I switch solutions?
  • What happens when I update/upgrade?

Custom solutions and integrations break, they take time to troubleshoot and they lengthen the time to deploy and upgrade. As you consider solutions and platforms, look for configurable solutions and proven integrations to help avoid the cost of custom work down the road.

3. Automate processes

Most local councils are understaffed, can’t increase staff to match additional workload and can quickly lose staff expertise, leading to compromised effectiveness of services or embedded compliance in service delivery. Making automation a key component of digital transformation is essential.

Those government organisations that have automated their processes have shown dramatic results that include: faster processes, reduced paperwork, re-focus of staff on essential tasks and improved communication with customers. Local councils could invest in many data systems and that data might have significant policy and decision-making value, but when the time comes to take action, respond to needs and service citizens, automation is critical.

4. Create mobile access

Many services require fieldwork, which often requires a comparison between information in a file and what a staff person observes during inspections, interviews and audits. Any digital transformation will drive the need for mobile access to project and client information.

And, with that mobile access to information, you can replace paper forms with electronic forms and automate processes that keep tasks and transactions moving even as field staff move to their next appointments. Mobile access means better fieldwork and faster services.

5. Embrace the web as your new council office

Web-based services and transactions are at the heart of meeting the demands of today’s citizens. But, too often, forms available for download to print are the only way that websites are used. Combining electronic forms with workflow automation behind the scenes provides customers with status updates on their submissions and helps staff manage the volume of work without having to create more paper.

With automated communication, you enhance process transparency for citizens without adding workload and even enhance internal transparency by eliminating paper. And, with citizens entering data, you save manual data entry. By adding in automation, work is immediately assigned for faster action. Ensuring that your website is more than a repository of information can change your council’s image and support your staff.

One advantage of working in the public sector is that collaboration is both possible and advantageous. The above principles have worked for many government agencies struggling to meet citizen needs for new service delivery methods while facing tight budgets. And, the changes these principles embody happen to result in faster and cheaper government.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at automation and why it is critical to any technological improvements you make to your local council toolkit.

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented ECM strategies and written legislation and program policies. As an enterprise advisor, she uses her background in IT deployment, change management and strategic planning to lead workshops that help Hyland customers get the most from their solution investments.
Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented... read more about: Terri Jones