Today, businesses across the board understand that customers want to access their services at any time, from any device and location. Connected citizens have the tools and the confidence to control how and when they engage services.
What’s more, these new forms of engagement are not just helping brands to deliver an even greater customer-centric service; they are unlocking new revenue streams in the private sector.
So why not do the same in local government?
The public sector could easily emulate the private sector’s use of technology in order to meet ever-increasing citizen expectations and boost commercial viability. But many authorities, saddled with legacy systems which are no longer fit for purpose, are today struggling to take advantage of modern technology. And some authorities rely on outdated communications channels, many of which only operate during standard government office hours.
Most local authorities would love to implement a more modern approach to customer service. However, reimagining service delivery models can be difficult, because of the perception around increasing costs and disruption to public-facing services.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that today’s citizen is very well connected, which means that the public sector needs to be too. And connecting services – based on a clear, well thought out strategy – not only enhances citizen engagement opportunities, it can offer cost benefits.
Digital services in the public sector should be about meaningful engagement; something which helps residents conveniently access services and helps optimise operational efficiency internally. Local authorities have access to connected data that can give a complete understanding of each individual, and with the insight they gather, authorities can build powerful connections with their citizens, employees and partners. By unlocking the most valuable data, authorities can deliver services efficiently, in a way that’s convenient for citizens to access, and at the same time free up staff to focus on delivery of frontline services.
I’ve seen some great examples of local authorities thinking innovatively to develop entirely new business models. And perhaps that’s not a term you’d typically associate with the public sector, but it’s indicative of the direction many authorities are taking. Take Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC). In just a few years, CEO Andrew Grant and his team have completely overhauled the council’s delivery model across a range of services – in fact, almost all of them have become cloud-based. AVDC was among the first in UK local government to do this and Grant credits this to researching what worked well in the private sector.
What this research showed was that today’s most successful businesses know the importance of understanding and listening to their customers. In anticipation of their needs, they tailor products or services for a personalised experience and ensure that the customer feels important. This ethos should be at the heart of the public sector; because as well as offering a more holistic, customer-centric approach to service delivery, it unlocks new revenue streams.
In the case of AVDC, having a platform on which to build out digital services has allowed the authority to focus heavily on other areas; one example being a ‘people's lottery’ which enables the council to support local needs and initiatives that would not be feasible with the traditional business model.
Enhanced service delivery doesn’t only have to be geared towards the citizen, either. Authorities can take advantage of technologies such as cloud and mobile to deliver a better employee experience. Sometimes this comes down to the simplest operational fixes that make daily tasks easier, such as putting the tools in the hands of field officers to report on issues like broken down vehicles or council equipment in need of repair. Council officers working in the field can respond to problems much faster if they don’t have to wait until they are back at their desk to log an issue. Finally, new technology fixes the age-old problems of effective employee engagement.
I’ve seen other great examples of apps enabling remote employees to both share and access data while working in the community. For example, rather than relying on notebooks, social workers at Peterborough City Council can capture and access real-time information on their mobile device. With real-time access to knowledge and data, they can deliver the most effective, on-the-spot citizen service.
Whether for customers or council employees, technology is enabling authorities to break down the information silos which have historically existed in the public sector and make a step-change in the way they deliver services. Thinking like an innovative enterprise business can dramatically improve how councils engage citizens. This creates a positive cycle; as digital services free up human resources, teams can focus on constant innovation and continually adapt service delivery to the exact needs of the citizen, as they evolve.
Today, it’s simply not enough for the public sector business model to offer transactional services. They need to embrace change and deliver a truly connected, personalised experience to citizens, which will keep them coming back for more.