How can digital transform local authority services?

There is no doubt that local authority digital transformation is no longer ‘nice to do’ – it is an absolute necessity. To succeed in today’s increasingly digital world, local authorities need to fully embrace digital transformation by investing in new platforms, redesigning existing operational processes and working on collaboration with service providers and peers.

The need to take advantage of digital innovations has never been greater. Local government has suffered significant cuts to budgets in recent years and at the same time, demand on local services has been increasing. This has been compounded by an ageing population and rising numbers of children under the age of five. Councils are also continuing to grapple with welfare reform, public health responsibilities and the pressure of trying to integrate the health and social care system.

The onus is on local authorities to continue to demonstrate value for money while delivering high quality, cost effective services. Bridging the digital divide and providing more web-based government services will help to streamline and improve processes, saving valuable time and money.

The pressure is now on for local authorities to embrace digital transformation, with the digitisation of services and processes a top priority for local authority managers.

Digital barriers

Despite the need to fully adopt digital, one of the main barriers is that local authorities need to have the technology and resources in place to deliver the goods.

According to a survey by The MJ and BT, while most local authorities have a strategy in place to fully deliver the necessary digital transformation, many lack the essentials skills or the required levels of investment for wholesale implementation.

Instead, for the majority of respondents, there is a serious discrepancy between what managers see as digital priorities and how far they have progressed with implementing it themselves. Nearly a third (32%) sees the cloud as a priority; however only 12% say they are fully using it.

Similarly, 39% see data sharing as important but only 8% admit to having started to implement it any data sharing within their own organisation.

It certainly begs the question: ‘So what’s stopping local authorities?’

There are three main, commonly cited challenges facing local authorities:

1. Lack of digital leadership

A complete service redesign is essential to effectively deliver services over the internet and this requires strong, determined digital leadership from the top. However, experts argue that c-level leaders do not necessarily have (or understand) the latest developments and are fully informed when making investment decisions. They need knowledge, education, support and tenacity to deliver the transformation required.

2. Service delivery silos

Something which many residents don’t necessarily realise is that services within councils are quite independent of each other. Their assumption is that they can interact with the council as a whole and they don’t understand the way the council is configured. Long-standing silos must be dismantled in order to deliver better, ‘more joined up’ public services.

3. Legacy issues

Digital transformation can be restricted by older, legacy back-office software and systems. Sometimes the size and complexity of these systems makes even the smallest change to customer services and processes a major cost and investment. Local authority managers are, understandably, fearful of service redesigns and the prospect of removing legacy back-office technology.

Digitising back office services

If the barriers can be overcome, digital transformation is expected to make a significant impact across a wide range of back office and frontline services.

In a recent survey, over two thirds of local authority respondents named back office services such as finance, HR and ICT as being the most affected by digital transformation. Next up was revenues and benefits with 61% of respondents, followed by 52% citing health and social care.

There are huge benefits of digitising back office services. These include: saving time, improving efficiencies and providing a quick return on investment. In addition, compared to other services, it can be relatively easy to implement and offers flexible deployment opportunities.

Rolling out e-payroll solutions to local authorities

One such back office administrative function that is ideal to digitally transform is payroll. Useful features of a digital payroll solution can include: full payroll parameterisation, payroll production, maintenance of employee payroll details, automatic PAYE RTI reports to HMRC and payroll processing for individuals, groups or all employees over a range of frequencies.

The beauty of any online payroll system is that it can reduce the costs of providing paper payslips significantly. It cuts the cost of payslip production, removes the need for incurring postage costs, is better for the environment and reduces the amount of queries for the payroll team.

E-payroll will work hand in hand with your existing payroll system and provide not only an instant online payslip but an archived document system providing historical payroll information, including other related documentation.

It can also be used to securely store: payslips, P60s, pension statements and other important employee documentation such as contracts of employment, general HR communications and standard HR documents and templates.

In a nutshell, e-payroll provides a tailored solution giving councils what they need, when they need it and enabling them to focus on the task at hand with their existing resources as well as more time to spend on planning and strategy.

A digital future

Councils deliver an estimated 80% of local public services and are located in and form part of the communities they serve. They are rising to the challenges they face and transforming the way they deliver services by redesigning, reorganising and reforming.

Here at Latcham, we have a reputation of providing market-leading support to over 30 local authorities throughout the UK and have specific expertise within e-payroll solutions as well as revenues and benefits and electoral services.

Councils report that through the implementation of new technology and online processes, they have been able to introduce major new efficiencies and free-up employees to deliver better front-line services. Furthermore, the savings on postage and distribution alone are significant. A Council with over 20,000 employees stands to save in excess of £25,000 per annum on this element alone. The self-service portal offering means that end-users can access critical information online, providing efficiencies in call centre activity and workload.

By integrating back and front-office processes, council staff have been able to resolve more resident enquiries at the first point of contact.

It’s clear that the future is digital. However, while there continues to be great progress in applying technology and digital approaches in public services, much remains to be done.

Local authorities need to invest more in their digital transformation to reap the significant benefits. Wherever they are on the path to greater digital adoption, replacing paperwork with less manually intensive digital applications, encouraging more integration with internal systems and processes and working towards web and portal communication is a huge step forward. Digital transformation will increase citizen engagement and participation now and in the longer-term.

That said, it’s also important to remember that there is still a significant minority of people who cannot or do not wish to embrace technology and digital access to services, but whom councils and other public bodies cannot afford to neglect. A broad range of approaches is therefore required including ‘assisted digital’ for those individuals that find an online self-service is just not an option.

We’re helping local authorities with their digital transformation. Find out more at the Latcham Local Government portal.