“Making connections” – How IOT-based technology transforms local government

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The digital revolution has transformed how assets are managed and services are delivered for decades, and the rate of change is constantly increasing. This transformation represents an exciting opportunity for asset and service managers to take advantage of new technologies to increase their efficiency and improve the quality of their service delivery. And nowhere is this opportunity more exciting or the need for change more urgent than across local government.

Scoping the challenge

Resources are tight, and funding limited.  At the same time, residents are getting more demanding. Council tax payers have a base expectation of the core services that will be met by councils within annual budgets. They also expect authorities to address economic, social and environmental issues in the communities they serve. 

By the same token, local authorities are acutely aware of the needs of residents, the cost of delivering service and support, and the limited resources at their disposal to do this.

Unfortunately, funding issues can lead to protracted debates both at a public level and internally within councils - and the scarcity of resources can lead to a focus on competition rather than collaboration, with departments fighting for resources. This can in turn make it difficult to bring people together to find solutions to challenges and to achieve outcomes that benefit the community. And it’s a scenario that mitigates against the kind of agile, efficient service delivery that brings tangible benefits to residents.  

These are tough challenges for local authorities to overcome and they are made tougher still by the legacy applications that they often still use to manage assets. Many applications simply cannot cut it in today’s digital world due to antiquated architectures and slow performance.

Change is required if communities are to remain resilient. Digital transformation will be key but for most authorities, their journey has a long way to go. 

Driving the digital revolution

Given the speed at which the technological revolution is moving, councils need to direct more resources towards digital transformation with a view to increasing efficiency and promoting technological innovation

Data-driven decision-making is about optimising local government performance, and if we can achieve this we’ll create efficiencies that free up valuable resources to be used in the areas where it is most needed. This approach requires us to stop separating workflows, assets, people and resources into separate categories, but instead seek to connect them. The same applies to the various council departments – instead of taking a siloed approach to asset management and service delivery, we should be looking for synergy and alignment.

In this context, one of the biggest opportunities for local authorities is presented by the emergence of the Internet of Things. IOT-connected devices and sensor and control elements that are connected to their operational software platforms can give councils the power to remotely control, monitor the condition of their assets, issue work orders, track workflow, and optimise resource usage. 

There are a raft of possible applications for IOT across council operations. Many started the ball rolling a few years ago by placing sensors on street lights. Utilising data or communication networks, they focus on getting these assets to self-report to new central management systems (CMSs) installed at their headquarters.

It’s an approach that has the potential to turn asset maintenance and management into a more proactive process for the councils. An alert can be sent over the network to the CMS when a bulb blows, providing the council with an immediate update on the situation rather than having to wait for a monthly inspection or rely on a member of the public to report the problem. The result is that the council can be more energy-efficient and provide a better service.

One of the biggest potential benefits of IOT is the opportunity to achieve reduced cost of service delivery. Sensors strategically placed in litter or commercial waste bins could allow councils to develop more efficient routing and collections and even review, based on fill levels, whether bins are really required in certain locations.  Operational efficiencies could be achieved by using sensors on bin lorries to monitor potholes and road conditions while waste collection teams go about their daily operations rather than a separate team having to be sent out to investigate or relying on members of the public to report issues.

Sensor-based technology can also enable councils to make safety improvements. They could, for example, be used to measure the lean of a dangerous tree and alert the authorities to any worsening of it. Moreover, they could be deployed to measure water or silt levels, and give early warning about potential flooding, enabling the council to take proactive action to resolve the problem rather than waiting until an incident occurs and infrastructure assets and the public, are at risk.

Added to this, we see future opportunities to use IOT-connected devices to measure air quality especially with a growing number of low emissions zones now being introduced across the UK.

Sensors can also help improve decision-making. Collecting all this data across IoT networks puts councils in a good position to make more informed decisions about their infrastructure and how to manage it in an economic and cost-effective way.

Building consensus

IOT-based technology is key to the success of digital transformation within public sector organisations and local government, in particular. Technology alone can never be a panacea of course.

To be a success over the long-term, it is also important that digital transformation is a truly organisation-wide initiative. Its success depends on organisations taking their staff along with them on the journey, training them to understand the technology and ensuring they appreciate why the organisation is changing its approach. But it is also key that initiatives not only have senior management buy-in but are driven from the top. That combination of organisation-wide engagement and technology implementation is key to digital transformation success across the public sector today. Getting all this right is challenging of course, but for those councils, authorities and organisations that rise to the challenge, the benefits are potentially great both for themselves and for the public they serve.

Phil Oldbury, Director of Customer Service, Yotta