HSO Blog: How to maintain the digital momentum and plug the skills gap

CCN Blogs | 30 September 2022

If we cast our mind back to the immediate period after the pandemic struck in early 2020, projects that, before Coronavirus, took months or even years to deliver, landed in weeks.  The result is that, as of today, authorities have access to the latest technology. Technology that, in theory, allows them to solve the many challenges in the quality, timeliness, and relevance of service delivery. Again, in theory.

The Chief Executive of a council recently stated that “The capabilities of technology now far exceed our ability to get the most from it.” It’s ironic to think that the cure to the challenge of service delivery in constrained times is too advanced. Yet, this isn’t a blanket attitude.

Suffolk County Council are using advanced data and analytics tools to find efficiencies in school bus routes. This alone shaved millions from their annual budget. Perhaps then it is not the fault of technology that its potential is not always realised. There may be something else at play. The Director of Adult Social Services from one council suggests “Success is not landing the technology; it’s getting people using the technology.”

Economies of skill

If the skills shortage concerns – or is impacting – you, you’re not alone. In a recent roundtable – Maintaining momentum: Digital transformation for councils in the wake of the pandemic – 14 senior local authority members cited a skills gap as a barrier to maintaining post pandemic digital momentum.

To bridge the gap, many local authorities are recruiting into IT, with a degree of success. New modern tools make it easier to communicate and collaborate over distances. This means the talent pool is wider because employees don’t need to be within a commutable distance. It’s important though that skills are not annexed into one specific team but integrated across the council. Additionally, managers in all parts of a local authority need a basic understanding of IT to effect change and provide value. Technology can help here too.

Designed with accessibility – and the user – in mind, the latest technology, such as Microsoft’s Power Apps, allow non-developers to build software applications. This makes it easier to train and pass skills to more people in the organisation, reducing the need to recruit.

Maintain a momentum mindset

A senior local authority representative recently highlighted that, “The appetite of service users or communities to engage digitally with us has accelerated rapidly in certain areas.” Perhaps the single greatest shift – and key to ongoing and future success – is authority mindset.

Rapid mobilisation is driving out old notions that technology projects are singular. With a prescribed beginning and end. This isn’t the case. Digital transformation is a progressive approach built on constant improvement. You uncover how people use tech, what your teams want from it, how it can deliver value to your customers, and then adapt. The latest technology has made this easier.

As one authority representative stated, “If I standardise my applications, the skills I need to support them becomes less.” Legacy systems are expensive to run and need a glut of processes and people to keep them moving. On the flip side, newer technology is lighter to manage, easier to maintain, connected, and flexible.

We want to see a post-pandemic future of connected data and communities, automated services, and where citizens can access and call upon services faster. With the right approach – and momentum – today’s advanced technology will make delivering citizen services easy, removing the manual process of logging information and managing actions.

For more insight on how county local authorities are balancing citizen service delivery with maintaining technology momentum, download HSO new report, produced with CCN, here.

Michael Lonnon

Head of Public Sector Marketing, HSO