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Home » News » Digital – the most plausible response to austerity – not yet embraced by many local public service organisations

Digital – the most plausible response to austerity – not yet embraced by many local public service organisations

Living with austerity: making hard choices for ICT investment shows how digital underpins the most likely future scenarios for sustainable local public services. However, while the enabling technologies themselves pose little challenge, getting service departments to unlock their imagination, overcome traditional thinking and capitalise on the digital opportunity is proving more difficult.

The report urges ICT managers not to leave it to frontline services to decide what to do in isolation, but rather to get involved in changing the culture. This will involve combatting entrenched attitudes, technophobia, rigid adherence to ‘the way things get done around here’ and concerns about role and job security.

If the ICT function can be successful in doing this, it will achieve its potential to save public services from a steady decline caused by successive waves of draconian cuts. Post-austerity, modernised public services will be digital to the fullest extent possible – anything less being unsustainable because of insufficient resources.

The approach ICT managers should take is to engage services in an extended dialogue about the business challenges they face, and show how ICT can help modernise service processes. Following the example of the Government Digital Service (GDS), they should reposition the ICT function as a digital service and valued business partner, rather than its traditional role as a ‘back office’ technology provider and operator.

The report begins with an overview of the changing context for public service delivery, setting out the drivers for change, including austerity and challenging demographic developments.

It describes a series of prescriptions for action, starting with Martha Lane Fox’s March 2015 call for leaders ‘able to escape the old assumptions’ and embrace the huge digital opportunity to ‘do public services differently’. Also covered in the commentary are the Policy Exchange paper Small pieces, loosely joined; the December 2014 Treasury and Cabinet Office report Efficiency and Reform in the next Parliament; the February 2015 SOLACE report, Changing local services; and the Service Transformation Panel report Bolder, braver and better: why we need local deals to save public services.

In Section 3: Digital opportunity, the report points out that, while service managers are continuing to struggle with the impact of spending cuts and demographically-driven rises in demand, ‘digital’ is offering a range of approaches and solutions. These include shared services, agile and flexible working, service redesign, aggregated procurement and demand management. These interconnected activities are described and brought together as a ‘toolkit’ for living with – even taking advantage of – austerity.

Section 4 presents a series of case studies of organisations that have used several components from the ‘digital opportunity toolkit’ in broad ranging responses to the austerity challenge. These include:

  • East Riding of Yorkshire: Transforming the whole organisation digitally
  • Eastbourne BC: Using document imaging and workflow to reduce human interaction
  • Hampshire CC: Continuing to make ICT savings from a service that was already benchmarked as efficient
  • Leeds City Council: Getting value from data
  • Medway Council: Smarter working
  • Melton BC: Supporting a joined-up approach through colocation and
  • information sharing
  • Tandridge DC: Using Agile development and cloud-based software as a service to increase usability and save money
  • Government Digital Service
  • The Home Office: visas for Chinese visitors
  • Ireland: use of open source
  • The Netherlands: Buurtzorg community nursing

The report goes on to explain that, given the need to make savings worth as much as 30% of the pre-recession budget during the rest of the decade, most organisations will be tackling multiple, and often interconnected, projects simultaneously. Here again, the ICT service can make a key contribution, having skills in both project and programme management methodologies that will help to organise and control multiple activities and reduce the risk of failure.

‘We are perhaps only half-way through the journey that is austerity’ says Nick Roberts, Socitm’s immediate Past President, in the foreword to the report. ‘The only way we can achieve the required organisational savings is to be radical and disruptive and force an organisation to work differently. Socitm believes it is the responsibility of the CIO and their team’s to identify these opportunities.’

Living with austerity: making hard choices for ICT investment is a detailed 68-page publication, available free of charge to Socitm Insight subscribers at Share Cambridge and priced at £195 for others (£150 for Socitm members).

Further information

Vicky Sargent, Socitm Press Office

Tel: 07726 601 139 email: vicky.sargent@socitm.net


Martin Greenwood, Programme Manager, Socitm Insight

Tel: 07967 383755 e-mail: martin.greenwood@socitm.net

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