Emerging Digital Technology Signals New Opportunity For Public Sector

Public Services

Mobile technology is transforming the world we live in; people expect to be able to access the right information whenever and wherever they need it. With the advent of mass-market 4G services this summer signalling a faster, more ubiquitous mobile experience, digital demands are only set to increase.

However, a report this year revealed a worrying disconnect between local authorities and the communities they serve. Although almost half of citizens say they’d like to engage with their local authorities through social media, the Internet and mobile phone apps, only 7% have done so in the past year because the services are unreliable or unavailable.

How to address this increasing digital disconnect is a significant challenge for local government. Not least because it comes at a time of increased pressure to reduce costs – but alongside this pressure to cut spending, there is also an emerging public demand for local authorities to deliver better services via a variety of channels, a demand that should not be ignored or feared.

To bridge this growing digital divide, councils need to start asking citizens what they really want. Whether it is simply to be able to pay their council tax via a mobile app, receive tweets about local road closures before they set off for work or perhaps more ways to voice an opinion – for example, contributing their views about new housing developments via a Facebook page.

Once the community’s digital needs are identified, local authorities can fully embrace the benefits of digital technology by considering three key areas:

Put An End To Communication Frustration

A recent Digital Community report revealed four in five people receive messages from their local council which are out of date. Embracing a digital approach to the formulation and supply of information allows it to be easily and frequently updated without having to employ services which are particularly technologically advanced.

Text messaging for instance, can reach highly defined groups of individuals with timely, up-to-date information, whether that involves reminding them of the deadline for their council tax payment or updating residents as to when a pothole on their street will be filled.

Understand More About Local Communities

71% of people say information they are confronted with by their local councils is largely irrelevant, highlighting the need to deliver accurate, joined up services. Employing data analytics solutions would allow councils to gather specific information about the people of their community to ensure packages of information can be tailored to suit people’s interests and needs. Information on improvements to local playgrounds for example, can be distributed straight to parents of under-fives and not to local students.

Apply Technology To Increase Efficiency

Local authorities are under more pressure than ever before to run on reduced budgets. Investment in digital technology offers huge opportunities to both cut costs and deliver the best service, if harnessed in the right way. The Government’s Digital Efficiency Report found that the average cost of a central government digital transaction can be almost 20 times lower than the cost of telephone calls, and 50 times lower than face-to-face meetings.

The average cost for contact by phone is £2.83; by web, it is just 15 pence. As such, providing services across a variety of digital channels not only satisfies citizens by giving them the chance to interact in their preferred way, but also works out as more cost-effective.

Emerging technology can also play an equally important role in freeing up public sector workers. Giving employees the tools to work remotely, out in the community, will enable them to speak to citizens and get a better understanding of the issues and challenges emerging in their community.

From empowering front-line staff to be more productive on the move, to making it easier for local authorities to engage with their communities via social media, emerging digital technology and devices can bring local councils and the public more closely together than ever before. Local authorities need to embrace this opportunity, working with their communities to inspire change and introduce new ways of doing things. This is the key to ensuring Britain’s public services are fit for a digital future.

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Mark Adams-Wright

Mark Adams-Wright joined O2 following his time as CIO at Suffolk County Council. He has over 20 years’ experience in the IT and telecommunications industry, working on both sides of the public-private fence. In his current role, he is always trying to bridge the gap between the two sectors. At O2, this has included transforming the Local Government Future Forum into the Digital Fund (the LGDF) to bring real digital innovation and insight to the public sector. For his sins, Mark is a long-suffering Wycombe Wanderers’ fan. When not weeping in the stands, he breeds pedigree cocker-spaniels of which he has three. Mark is married, with two children and a lizard.