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Public sector digital trends 2023 collection | Article

Emerging ‘Connected Places’

The journey to ‘smart cities’ began in the early 1970s. Now, the focus is shifting to ‘connected places’ that are not constrained by vague definitions as to what constitutes ‘smart’ and not limited by urban boundaries.

“Connected places are often referred to as smart cities. However, it is important that it is not only urban areas that can deploy and benefit from these technologies. Rural communities can benefit from a range of uses such as environmental monitoring, healthcare and predictive road maintenance. Further, there is a lack of consensus on the definition of what ‘smart’ is which can introduce confusion on what constitutes ‘smart’ technology. As a result, DCMS, NCSC, and CPNI use the term connected places.” (Source)

UK Government (DCMS, NCSC, CPNI)

At a place-based level, public services have for many years been inherently fragmented. Some local services may be run nationally, some run by councils within tight geographic boundaries and others provided by health services or community organisations. Budgets are fiercely protected, and shared services are sometimes little more than a localised agreement to collaborate or cooperate on specific projects. Even neighbouring councils often operate similar services separately.

However, Covid forced new connections between different elements of public services. Current pressures will mean that many local public services will have no choice but to extend these connections, sharing services across place to reduce costs, manage demand, contain risks and to drive better outcomes and productivity – in short, to enable the creation of ‘connected places’.

In 2023, citizens will also become increasingly intolerant (and vocal) about any unnecessary barriers that exist between related public services. Public service organisations will find it harder to defend policies and practices that perpetuate best practice locked in islands of unconnected services (silos), which in turn deliver poorer digital service outcomes for the public.

Sharing and collaborating – a new digital priority for 2023

Drivers:

  • Economy of scale
  • Specific skills shortages
  • Connecting governance
  • Citizens demanding connected services
  • Resilience in local infrastructure
  • Better risk insight and controls
  • Sharing innovation ideas
  • Improving communications

Benefits:

  • Cost savings and efficiency
  • Improved capacity at peak times
  • Greater governance control
  • Strategy across whole systems
  • Job opportunities and career progression
  • Productivity from integrated processes
  • Specific skills retention
  • Connecting governance and processes
  • Improved cybersecurity
  • Improved agility and responsiveness
  • Faster innovation and change
  • Citizen satisfaction levels higher.

Several contributors to this year’s trends analysis indicated that understanding ‘whole systems’ ways of working is key to this change. Many problems facing local public services can only be solved by understanding processes and information flows across sector boundaries – how the constituent parts of a ‘whole service’ from the citizen perspective interrelate in any one place (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Connecting local public services

It is an area where national governments sometimes struggle with digital programmes, as is evident in the UK with the imminent closure of the ‘Gov.UK Verify’ national identity scheme, past national health IT systems programmes and the initial implementation of ‘Universal Credit’ welfare benefits.

Key enablers of systems working in connected places that will be more common in 2023 and have digital implications include:

  • combining budgets to tackle cross-organisational sector challenges
  • sharing services, including integration of leadership teams across organisations
  • sharing of cloud-based systems between related services
  • growing introduction of ‘joint boards’ and collective performance targets
  • accelerating deployment of common agreements on data sharing
  • harnessing data to better understand the root causes of exclusion and community breakdown
  • redesigning digital services to overcome exclusion and rebuild communities
  • seeking to limit avoidable contact through wider collaboration (such as ‘hospital bed blocking’).

This holistic, system-wide, place-based approach will drive reviews of customer services plans – from the role of CRM to the way in which self-service and automated digital delivery are integrated with other customer experience channels.


Case studies

Staffordshire – sharing services

In England, two Staffordshire councils have approved plans that will see them share nearly all of their services, saving about £1.2m. The first stage of the increased collaboration will see them share a top team, which will lead to a reduction in senior management costs of nearly £90,000. The business case was described by the LGA as ‘compelling … well researched and evidenced.’

“All local authorities are facing very challenging financial circumstances and these plans can save our taxpayers money without cutting vital services to our community. Sharing services will also help us build capacity and resilience within the council as well as helping us to recruit and retain staff.”

– Councillor Patrick Farrington, Leader, Stafford Borough Council, England.

Leicester – sustainable transport

Leicester City Council MaaS project goes to SkedGo (Skego.com)

Announced in April 2022, the Leicester Bus Partnership is an 8-year plan led by Leicester City Council with SkedGo, the technology partner, and six bus operators.

“By breaking down the barriers to sustainable transport, and by making alternative modes and multi-modal journeys as accessible as possible, we are delivering on our commitments to address the climate emergency and to reduce air pollution, while also giving people the tools they need to make informed decisions about how they get from A-B on a daily basis.”

– Harvey Blundell, Assistant Transport Development Officer, Leicester City Council, England