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Why flexible systems are key to local authority service delivery in uncertain times

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/TechnoVectors)

What every authority knows for certain today is that the public will increasingly demand high levels of service delivery moving forward. Many people are now home-based and spending much more time in their local area, and are therefore more aware than ever before how nearby roads, pavements, parks, green spaces, and trees are managed as well as how their own waste and recycling collections are delivered.    

The ongoing march to digitalization which has been accelerating over the last couple of years is also having a significant impact. In their everyday lives, people are increasingly used to rapid service delivery, being kept informed about progress against queries and complaints and having them resolved quickly. They increasingly expect the same responsiveness from their local authorities. They want to be able to access services, and, when required, report a new pothole, or a missed bin collection online and get regular updates as to how their issues are being progressed.

In addition, with climate change a topic high on the agenda globally since the COP26 conference, the public expect local authorities to deliver sustainable services. Local authorities can play a critical role in tackling the climate emergency by translating the ambitions of central government to achieve net-zero goals by 2050 into tangible action to move towards that target by making their own activities more energy-efficient and by delivering more environmentally-friendly services. Councils are having to consider how they can decrease carbon emissions; plot a route to net-zero and implement a strategy for electric vehicle infrastructure. 

The fact that the UK’s local authorities have climate change high on their agenda is evidenced by the fact that approximately 300 have declared a climate emergency. Such a declaration is an acknowledgment by these organizations of the need to take action to cut their own carbon emissions and work with partners and local communities to tackle the impact of climate change on their local area.

Alongside this, with many employees still working from home, and the number of cyber-attacks growing, local authorities also have significant worries about system and information security. Many may also need to think about wider organizational change as momentum around local government re-organization continues. 

So, local authorities are facing a multitude of external and internal factors exerting a pressure to change. All the ongoing uncertainty around climate change means no authority can truly predict what scenarios it will be facing in this area over the longer term. Taken together, all this makes it very difficult for local authorities to plan when they are managing assets and services.

Finding a way forward 

To navigate all this change and continue to deliver frontline services of the highest standard, authorities will need to have flexible technologies and processes in place. Change is the only constant here but predicting how that change will develop and evolve is all but impossible. From the authorities’ perspective, we are still in the early stages of this journey. There are few clear mandates in place, for example, around net zero, carbon reduction and biodiversity and what is expected of local authorities, and it is therefore, all but impossible for them to put clear targets in place.  

So, the nature of change is hard to predict. However, even if we don’t clearly know what that change will be, we know that it is coming. That means the authorities need to be agile and able to bring in new services or change their operational focus quickly and efficiently if and when the need arises. 

Local authorities simply can’t afford to think in silos here. Again they need to be flexible enough to think beyond just waste and recycling. If they are focused on one service area, they are thinking too small because they have other services and responsibilities as an organization. To contend with the large macro challenges they have - and potentially redesign services, they need to consider their broader portfolio – which for some authorities includes everything from highways management to green spaces.

Having the flexibility to make changes quickly is always going to be key if authorities are going to contend with the level of uncertainty that they are facing. Data is key to this. That means collecting data to keep citizens informed and updated - but it has to be the right data. Rather than collecting data for data’s sake, local authorities need data that enables them to deliver better services to citizens, and to measure performance in order to identify the most appropriate changes and enhance their approach. That is likely to mean using technology to bring different data sets together to make more informed decisions and service improvements. Digitalization needs to be applied to drive greater efficiency and reduce costs but also make operations quicker and simpler to action. Valuable time can be freed up from the administrative functions and redirected into more strategic decision-making.

The keynote through all this, as acknowledged above, is that the technology that is chosen needs to be flexible. It needs to continue to work whatever new sector trends or regulatory initiatives emerge, not just in the short term but in the medium and long-term also. It must be flexible enough to bring in the right data; integrate the right datasets together to support decisions and adapt to bring in new data as the carbon agenda develops.  

If local authorities can successfully implement this kind of flexible IT systems infrastructure, they will be well-positioned to deliver optimum services to their residents and successfully navigate change in a world of continuing uncertainty.

Steve White, Head of Business Development for Local Government, Yotta

Steve White is Head of Transformation Accounts at Yotta, pioneering Connected Asset Management to help organizations manage and make more informed decisions about their infrastructure assets and environmental services.