Digital shift not a solution to transformation in its own right

ONE OF the sector’s leading transformation bodies has urged caution over national calls for councils to look towards technology as the solution to austerity.

Last month both SOLACE and SOCITM, in a joint paper, highlighted the issue of channel shift as the critical solution to council transformation.

But the Improvement & Efficiency Social Enterprise (iESE), created a decade ago by councils to provide an independent, sector-led body to support service transformation, warned that while the digital shift still has an important part to play in efficiency and reducing costs, it is simply not a solution to transformation in its own right.

The report – Local Digital Leadership – published jointly by SOLACE, SOCITM and the LGA, sets out a series of case studies around authorities who have made significant budget savings through implementing single digital access systems for customers – such as the My Council account concept which allows customers to access all their relevant accounts and services through a personalised page.

But while moving people online is critical to helping with self service and preventing demand, iESE chief executive Dr Andrew Larner warned that the sheer size and scale of transformation now required for councils to survive means far wider solutions are at the top of councils’ lists.

Dr Larner said: “There is absolutely a place for the digital shift in local council transformation – it is cited in our 3R transformation model for councils as a critical factor. But it is an enabler of or sometimes a catalyst for change – taken alone it simply touches the surface of transformation.

“Unless we challenge the service we are delivering and the service processes are reinvented, technology will only help authorities do the same things, sometimes the wrong things, better - and we know that in order to make the scale of change necessary authorities will need to completely rethink what and how they provide services.

 “But too often we’ve seen councils implementing technology without addressing the true cause of the problem – the waste and failure in existing processes, or the upstream cause of demand. There is a strong argument to say that if you really understand and anticipate your customers’ demand you minimise the need for and expense of contact.

 “We’re categorically not saying that digital transformation isn’t critical to reshaping local councils – it is. However, it should be a solution underpinning a new way of thinking and working – not a plaster stuck over an old process to make it quicker or cheaper, otherwise you risk just diverting the demand elsewhere.”