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Online publication Government News surveyed 100 local government authorities (LGAs) in Australia and New Zealand in 2017 and found: 

Increased digitisation of council services and processes enables an improved customer and staff experience, while generating long-term cost savings. As a result, gradual digital transformation is inevitable in the public sector.

Current landscape

While councils across Australia and New Zealand differ in their size, resources and management, all aim to provide services that improve residents’ lives.

Most LGAs deliver some services digitally but there is much variation on the level of digitisation between councils. For example, only half the LGAs Government News surveyed had a self-service website, and less than a third had a mobile phone app.

Legacy paper-based systems and manual processes are still in widespread use across councils, hindering effective service delivery. For example, sometimes forms are available online but still need to be downloaded, printed, completed and returned via post or in-person.

Most LGAs surveyed (85%) state there are too many paper forms in their workflows. Further, over two-thirds of councils still operate inefficient and error-prone manual processes in their human resources and procurement departments.

Out-of-date systems are not only expensive to run but they hold organisations back when it comes to improving services. For example, manual processes impede innovation by inhibiting the easy sharing of information across internal and external stakeholders.

 

Challenges to overcome

The greatest barrier to digital transformation for councils is budget. All levels of government are under pressure to deliver more with less. But spending is necessary to save. The gains from optimising processes and adopting new technologies quickly offsets the costs of maintaining inefficient and ineffective legacy systems.

Another impediment is organisational culture. Governance and compliance requirements are necessarily high given taxpayer money is at stake, and this can hamper modernisation. As a result, councils tend to favour the status quo for fear of public outcry and political fallout should an investment be negatively perceived.

Further, many councils are put off by the speed of change with technology; they also want to continue using the software and hardware solutions they have in place to maximise and leverage these existing investments. Therefore, the best approach to digitisation is to start small where the gains will be clear and the return on investment quantifiable. From this starting point, change can be implemented in phases.

Benefits of digital transformation

 

Digital transformation enables:

• improved operational efficiency

significant cost savings

a better stakeholder experience

insights and analytics to inform decision making

data security and intelligence

This means councils can work smarter while achieving greater productivity. For example, automating processes not only quickly pays for itself, but also helps to increase revenue, reduce risk, and deliver better services to rate payers. This is because staff can be redeployed to areas that generate revenue or better serve constituents, and data is consistently accurate and up to date.

Another way of achieving greater operational efficiency is to streamline community correspondence through providing self-service digital information and using Artificial Intelligence to answer standard, frequently asked questions.

Digitising this interaction enables a better customer experience than phoning a council and being directed through to the correct representative – an often slow and frustrating process.

2020 is a turning point

     

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trends for digital investment across all industries – including the public sector. Councils have had to be agile to continue to deliver community services during the crisis.

Many have adapted to provide digitally enabled self-serve, remote and contactless operations for residents, local businesses, and contractors. Therefore, many LGAs have already laid the foundations for their digital futures.

For example, the use of cloud-based platforms has been particularly beneficial during this period, allowing real-time communication and collaboration between stakeholders in different locations. This accessibility enables off-site work – and business continuity – despite the current disruption. And while the cloud may not be right for all government agencies, there is now increased openness to its use in local government.

‘’We’ve seen two years’ of digital transformation in two months.”- Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft, April 2020

2021 ‘future ready’

 

As we come out of the current crisis in 2021 and beyond, it’s highly likely that councils will need to save costs and become more profitable without raising rates or cutting services.

Automating manual processes is a good way to achieve this. Digitising workflows empowers councils to deliver a better service, while removing unnecessary costs, relieving employees of mundane work, and strengthening good governance.

Post-pandemic, it’s extremely unlikely that constituents or staff will want to revert to the way things were previously; with digitisation, efficiencies are discovered and new (and better) ways of operating realised. Certainly, most people will prefer the ease of use of digital so technological transformation will continue to evolve.

As a result, now is the time for local government to modernise, upskill employees and future proof. From a foundation of increased digitisation, councils will be able to become more profitable, attract and retain the best employees, and deliver better services to their constituents now and for the years to come.

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