Local Authorities – The Legacy Trap

It’s fair to say that Digital Transformation has been high on local government’s agendas for some time and while many have made in-roads the sheer complexity of government systems and processes has not made this easy or painless.

Rewind back to March 2020 when the pandemic hit the UK, digital transformation accelerated almost overnight. With a ‘Stay at Home, Save Lives’ message, local and national authorities had to act quickly; not only were the majority of employees required to work from home where possible, the requirement for Council services were pushed to the max.

This was an unprecedented time and new territory for most.  While many had continuity plans in place there certainly wasn’t a section that covered a global pandemic.

Digital technologies are an essential part of our lives. Before COVID-19 this was changing at pace anyway, but this has unquestionably been accelerated due to the pandemic. Councils have had to react like never before to ensure vital public services were continued to be delivered. Unfortunately, whilst digital technology has played an essential role in the response to the pandemic it has also heightened the awareness of the digital divide.

Throughout this pandemic it has been evident that remote learning for school children during lockdown has not been without issues, especially for those in deprived areas.  A lack of decent Wi-Fi in their homes or lack of devices has meant many being deprived of their right to an education. Likewise, with some local services, even when lockdown restrictions had lifted it was found that many Libraries have just began to open for the first time since March 2020. The elderly especially rely heavily on such services to access the internet and especially for social inclusion, the detrimental effects is yet unknown.

COVID-19 has changed how and where people work, and many local authorities have adapted incredibly well to support their workforce.  When the Government announced everyone should work from home where possible, Commsworld customer The City of Edinburgh Council, moved all of their Contact Centre operators, a team of 60, from the office to working remotely within days.

Their Contact Centre receives hundreds of calls on a daily basis from local citizens for essential services such as social care, repair emergencies, benefits and Council tax enquiries, and thankfully were still able to operate as normal.

Lisa Hastie, Customer Contact Manager said “Never in the history of the City of Edinburgh Council’s Contact Centre has this been used in a home working environment. Commsworld have been incredible, the support excellent, and the speed of pulling this homeworking solution for the agents has blown us away.”

While local authorities have been developing strategies to make best use of digital technology, legacy systems often remain a barrier. Many are still struggling with vast ICT systems that are not centralised nor unified meaning data, processes and systems don’t work as one and make data inaccessible and unusable. 

When the pandemic hit, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) played a vital role in part of the government’s response to this pandemic, to help businesses and individuals access financial support through the new support schemes. However, despite best efforts the pandemic put a huge strain on their operation and performance. An additional £53.2 million has been spent throughout this pandemic on IT, patching up legacy systems rather than modernising them.

Now more than ever local authorities need their ICT infrastructures to work for them.

Commsworld works with some of Scotland’s largest local authorities on their ICT contracts to upgrade their digital and connectivity services across regions which will see council buildings Schools, Libraries, Community Centres and offices as well as CCTV and traffic control systems all benefit from full fibre infrastructure.

Typically, Council’s connectivity requirements have been procured in isolation from each other; but now they realise there is a growing need for services and applications to be integrated which will help deliver a more cohesive service for its citizens, the community and its staff.

For some this might be a long road ahead but not only will a clear digital strategy support better outcomes for local authorities, by addressing the many legacy systems and infrastructure will also deliver improved productivity, enhanced service delivery and significant cost savings.

Investing in digital transformation will ensure local authorities meet their current connectivity needs but also future proof them for years to come.