A local government body may be responsible for delivering in excess of 1,000 different services, which hugely differ. These will typically range from adult and children’s care, bin collections and assets and buildings management to registrar functions, council tax and beyond.
That extensive scope creates significant organisational complexity. Technology tools and products have a vital role to play in coordinating those services, and are often deployed and depended upon by service owners in different and unique combinations, to meet the particular needs of individual services.
It’s important to note that those service owners are unlikely to be technology leaders, or leaders in digital transformation, but subject-matter experts in the lines they are required to deliver. So, the key question that emerges in all of this is:
How prepared are these services and their leaders – many of whom are not tech experts – for the ongoing shift and demands needed for true digital transformation?
I think we can think about it in five, simple ways:
1. Understanding the landscape Navigating the complexities of digital transformation in local government is no easy task. It requires the alignment of business decisions from officers with the strategic directives of councillors and the ever-evolving expectations and demands of the public.
That intricate alignment process is often more challenging than in the commercial sector, where commercial outcomes, revenue goals, customer loyalty and shareholder expectations, for example, serve as a clear roadmap to success or failure.
To navigate this landscape successfully, a culture that embraces change, combined with strong project management expertise is not just beneficial, but materially indispensable.
2. Creating a culture of change A transformational shift in any organisation doesn't happen overnight. It requires the body to instil a change-friendly culture that treats change not as an occasional disruption, but as a constant, embedded business function.
That perspective necessitates collaboration between all organisational tiers – from digital development teams, IT heads and individual service owners to laypeople, senior leadership teams and the CEO, right across the organisation. This all-in approach not only triggers the transformation but also ensures its sustained adoption.
3. Consistency in transformation While each digital transformation project harbours its unique set of challenges and objectives, they all require a consistent foundation. That includes buy-in from the business, sign-off from finance, active partnership with IT, end-user training and iterative feedback to continually improve.
However, success in one project can create a false sense of security, leading to an assumption of overall competence in change management. This assumption leads to future failure. It is through shared learning and consistent application of successful strategies across projects that a truly sustainable transformation can be achieved.
4. Unlocking knowledge management As the famous adage states, ‘Knowledge is power.’ So, how do we share knowledge within teams? I often look at my team and ask the questions: Is there critical IP locked away in a silo – whether in the form of a specific individual or another medium? How do I ensure that critical IP doesn’t disappear when an individual moves – or indeed, how do my team scale intellectual capital of ideas regularly and quickly and get the good ones to stick?
Securing cultural acumen and implementing effective knowledge management systems are pivotal steps in scaling transformation efforts. When individuals and teams keep expertise, they risk creating knowledge silos. The creation of a robust management system for sharing knowledge is crucial in a local government context.
5. Embracing never-ending transformation and continuous service improvement (CSI) So, how can leadership figures in local government tell when a digital transformation project has reached its natural conclusion? The answer is that constant refinement is more important than reaching a settled state.
A common misconception is that digital transformation projects have a definitive endpoint. However, with the diversity of communities, citizens and businesses that local government bodies serve – combined with the pace of technological innovation – needs and expectations are always evolving.
Therefore, constant refinement and ongoing support become not only valuable but necessary components of digital transformation. Take the advancements in generative artificial intelligence – they highlight the need for organisations to think about transformation in continuous, always-on terms.
If you are involved in any way in increasing the positive impact of public services on communities, citizens, and businesses, you have a mandate to drive the economic health and growth of place. We must have a mindset that digital transformation is a journey of constant evolution and adaptation – and that demands leaders who grasp that every end is only a new beginning.
1. Foster a culture that treats change as an essential business function.
2. Ensure shared learning across digital transformation projects.
3. Invest in a robust knowledge management system to safeguard and disseminate critical knowledge.
4. Remember, digital transformation is a journey of continuous refinement and adaptation.
5. Embrace CSI to stay agile and make the most of emerging technologies.