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Better together: How embracing collaboration can help local councils achieve digital autonomy

Much like other parts of the public sector, local authorities are facing a huge strain on resources, despite a growing demand to do and achieve more for their citizens. The ongoing labour and skills shortages continue to have a dire impact in the UK – particularly in the public sector. According to a study conducted by the CIPD, employers in this sector are increasing salaries to record levels in response to labour shortages and the cost of living crisis, with half (52%) of them reporting hard-to-fill vacancies. This is at a time when funds are tighter than ever as economic pressure continues to build. In fact, an additional survey released this year revealed that the majority of English councils are being forced to make more cuts to services, despite rising council tax. Worryingly, at least 12 councils now report being on the edge of bankruptcy with regular reports of more to come.
Amid these pressures, demand for the digitalisation of processes is growing. Not only can the incorporation of innovative technologies such as automation and AI streamline and build greater efficiency, but citizens are also demanding an increasingly connected, digital experience when interacting with councils.

But how can councils even begin to transform digitally in this increasingly tough climate?
One answer – collaboration

By sharing ideas and resources and working together on solutions, councils can find new ways to innovate and deliver great digital solutions. Through collaboration, as opposed to working in silos, local authorities can pool their resources, knowledge and expertise to achieve common goals, more efficiently and more effectively. Sharing costs and leveraging economies of scale can often achieve a lot more with limited resources. And it can be done more rapidly because councils are not reinventing the wheel.

Public sector challenges are typically extremely complex and multifaceted, requiring input and expertise from various stakeholders. By bringing in skills from various organisations, these councils have the potential to produce more innovative solutions that deliver better outcomes for the public.
The exchange of knowledge and expertise in this way also means that public sector organisations can continuously learn from each other, whilst avoiding repeating mistakes and building on successful approaches that have been built elsewhere. This can – in turn – cut some of the costs typically associated with digital transformation projects as well as saving valuable time and effort that can be focused in other areas of the business.

Better together
One recent collaboration as part of LocalGov Drupal was led by the team at Hammersmith & Fulham Council who worked with a number of additional councils including Newcastle City, Oxfordshire County and Brighton and Hove City to replace PDF documents on their websites. Among other usability issues, these documents often didn’t meet accessibility standards, yet thousands were being published. The solution was to build a template to reduce the production of PDFs, ensuring everything is published in HTML. Between them, the councils came together to design and implement the template. This included a rapid discovery of needs including what the councils considered ‘must’, ‘could’, and ‘should’ have features. Through ongoing communication using messaging platforms such as Slack, the councils were able to all review and feedback on progress despite time and resources being extremely tight.

Another example of councils collaborating to share outcomes is the community-owned user group, facilitated by Netcall. This enables teams from local authorities across the UK to come together to foster innovation and, essentially, get things done quicker. The community, which meets every month is continuing to grow rapidly and includes demos and showcases from councils who are digitalizing their processes using technologies such as low-code, and inspiring others to do the same. In doing so, councils are able to take onboard any learning and pain points experienced by their peers when carrying out digital transformation projects, to avoid making some of the same mistakes on their own. Equally, successes can then be replicated and built on further.

Using such platforms, which require minimal coding experience also means that the transformation and the implementation of new applications needn’t be constrained to developers alone. Innovation can be democratised across the organisation so that multiple departments including those directly impacted by the process can contribute. After all, diversity leads to better outcomes. Community-based application sharing platforms are also a great way of encouraging collaboration as they enable the reuse of applications, meaning that councils needn’t reinvent the wheel or start from scratch – not only increasing digital transformation speed but also cost-effectiveness.

Integration – the key to successful collaboration
Adopting a collaborative culture is certainly the way forward for local councils, however, success hinges on ensuring different systems and applications can be easily integrated. This is why more and more software suppliers are working together to ensure front and back-end systems not only talk to each other but allow a free flow of user information. By connecting these platforms, councils can rapidly build best-in-class experiences across the entire user journey. Netcall’s recent partnership with LocalGov Drupal is a prime example of this and how, when backed by suppliers that can encourage and facilitate such collaboration – local authorities can finally achieve digital autonomy and scale digital improvements across their operations.

With the right tools, and through better collaboration, councils can take back control and address the challenges that face them both now, and in the future. With budgets only getting tighter, and the skills shortage not showing any immediate signs of improvement, never has this been more important.

http://www.netcall.com