What Does the Future Hold for Technology in Local Government?
BY MARK SAYERS
The use of technology in local government has advanced a great deal over the last few decades and will likely continue to advance at an even faster pace in the coming years. It is not uncommon for a council to function from a number of locations, often spanning an entire region or county, and technology can play a part in ensuring that this process runs smoothly on the day to day, facilitating successful communication and sharing of information between a number of disparate locations. Furthermore, councils are increasingly finding that, as their citizens become more dependent on technology in every aspect of their lives, they are being forced into increasing their adoption of technology just to keep up with user demand.
There are at least three key reasons for a council to increase its adoption of technology: the need to function over a number of disparate locations, citizen experience and benefits in cost and efficiency. Based on this, we can begin to predict future trends in local government’s use of technology.
As councils often cover whole regions or counties, it is fairly common for them to function from a number of locations, spread out over their relevant area of jurisdiction, and technology can play a part in ensuring that this process runs smoothly on the day to day, facilitating successful communication, sharing of information between disparate locations and collaboration.
Firstly, a thoroughly considered and well implemented unified communications and collaboration strategy can facilitate seamless communication between these disparate locations. As a result of advancements in “smart meeting” technology, for example, government staff can remotely host and take part in meetings from separate offices. With one coherent telephony solution implemented throughout all locations, calls can be seamlessly passed from one office to another, ensuring that citizens can always be put through to the correct person to deal with their query.
Furthermore, a cloud-first strategy and the increased focus on cloud-based storage, can facilitate the seamless sharing of files between locations and allow for employees to access information remotely, from any office.
In addition to this, a council may also be responsible for aspects of the technology implementation in a number of other local public sector organisations. For example, 4C Strategies recently completed work with Cambridgeshire County Council on the procurement of a new wide area network (WAN) service, to be known as EastNet. It was anticipated that this wide area network would serve a number of locations throughout the area; not just councils, but also schools, NHS trusts and fire and rescue services.
In order to function successfully over a number of disparate locations, a council organisation must ensure that they have a detailed and comprehensive strategy to maintain the smooth day-to-day operation despite physical distances.
A local government organisation may also wish to consider the ways in which technology can benefit and enhance citizen experience. As we’ve already mentioned, councils are increasingly finding that, as their citizens become more dependent on technology in every aspect of their lives, they are beginning to demand this technology in their dealings with their local council, too, and governments are being forced to adopt more advanced technology just to keep up with this shift in user demand.
One area in which technology can have a huge impact on citizen experience is the contact centre. The contact centre is how the majority of citizen queries are handled and, as it is how most citizens deal with their local council, plays a huge role in defining their overall experience of the organisation.
Some forward-thinking councils have implemented artificial intelligence (AI) in their contact centres in order to enhance citizen experience and, before too long, AI and robots could become commonplace in local government. One silo of the wider AI offering getting a lot of attention of late is chatbots. Chatbots have the capacity to massively improve how citizens, especially technology-dependent millennials, can relate to and interact with their local councils. Conversational user experiences (for example, Facebook Messenger) are set to explode in a wide range of cases and markets, as they provide the ultimate user experience and breakdown a number of barriers to accessibility.
As a result of AI, it is expected that the way in which citizens contact their local council will change. Not only will we see citizens contacting their local councils through messaging platforms, as we’ve just mentioned, but it is expected that we will increasingly see councils creating their own platforms for communication, such as dedicated mobile apps. If a council were to introduce its own dedicated mobile app, citizens could use this to engage with chatbots, check the status of ongoing applications or claims and access local news regarding building developments, traffic updates, road closures and so on. A dedicated app may also be able to support other functions, such as taking payments and supporting the receipt of media, such as scanned forms or photos relating to a process or report.
At present, these technologies relating to citizen experience remain at a fairly embryonic stage, but it is expected that they will quickly evolve to facilitate a number of further functions, such as taking council tax payments, providing the user with progress updates on service requests and even becoming the new medium for filling out simple online forms via an automated question and answer process. All of these functions will enhance citizen experience by speeding up response times and streamlining processes.
Lowering costs, increasing efficiencies and streamlining organisational processes
Another benefit of technology in local government, and often the one that organisations focus on, is the ability to lower operational costs, increase efficiencies and enhance and streamline organisational processes. Technology allows for automation; when a council automates its functions, especially the most tedious and time-consuming tasks, this can increase efficiencies by carrying out these functions far faster than a human is capable of. Automation also saves money as it frees up staff resources to be focused on other tasks, as government employees spend less time answering phone calls, manually chasing up or responding to queries, scanning paperwork and so on. A technology strategy that takes into account a council’s disparate locations can also save time and money by reducing any duplication of effort between offices, thus lessening the overall workload.
A thoroughly considered and well-implemented technology strategy can ensure that every aspect of a local government’s IT infrastructure works together in order to ensure that the organisation benefits from the maximum possible efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
4C Strategies – IT Consultants to the Public Sector
4C Strategies is a firm of independent IT consultants that has been assisting local government organisations for over 20 years. In that time, we’ve helped over 50 central and local government organisations in a number of technology areas, from strategy development and implementation through to the procurement of networking services, telecoms solutions, servers and storage provisions and so on.
To find out more, or to arrange a free no-obligation consultation, contact 4C Strategies on 01858 438938, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more about our work with local government here.