2017: the year of user productivity transformation – and more…?

I don’t think I can consider 2017 without first looking briefly at 2016. It is safe to say that 2016 was an interesting year across the public sector with some major tectonic sized decisions and changes.  What these will mean are still to be understood, and my colleague Steve Knights has a look at some of these in his blog ‘2017: An exceptional year of change‘.

Like the political arena, technology throughout the year has also been interesting and challenging and Local Government entities throughout the UK have taken some major steps towards embracing ‘Digital’ in the delivery of services across all aspects of their operations.

With the challenges being placed on budgets, Local Government is having to become more creative in how it utilises technology to support employees, operate the business and deliver services to a widening variety of citizen needs. Our London DigiLab innovation centre, is hosting increasing numbers of authorities eager to discuss their issues and look at opportunities to save and improve.  It is providing an important forum to help them look differently at what they do and is enabling us to identify different ways of working and new technologies that will deliver lasting benefits to their organisations and services they deliver.

2016 saw some major players in the technology sphere bring in new offerings which have the potential to change how core digital services are offered.  Microsoft opened their UK data centres offering Azure and Office365 capabilities, with a roadmap of a lot more services to be deployed throughout 2017.  IBM are bringing their Watson Cognitive technologies to UK shores, and Amazon Web Services will be opening UK data centres.  With the implications of Brexit still unknown, this collective of UK centric technology offerings will give local authorities more options to protect their data and systems.

Some of the technology trends which we saw during 2016 will continue well into 2017 and beyond. They have the potential to change how citizens engage with public services, but the biggest changes will be in how employees and businesses operate.

2017 will be the year of user productivity transformation, Systems of Intelligence and Business as a Service.

Microsoft’s Azure, Office365 and Dynamics365 offerings have matured to significant levels, giving organisations a new opportunity to embrace the possibilities of Cloud on-demand operations.

Cognitive systems, or Systems of Intelligence, started to appear as mature service proposals during 2016, but the take up has been slow as organisations struggle to understand how these can be used within existing operations.  Throughout 2017 we will see more Machine Learning and Cognitive-based offerings becoming mainstream in the business operations across local government. IBM Watson will be leading the charge as this is the most mature of the current public domain Cognitive offerings, but Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite is also maturing at a rate and will start to offer more Machine Learning services. Google’s Deep Mind is the wild card and we will have to wait and see how this will become available.  Apple will continue to explore the Artificial Intelligence space with Siri becoming more useful as a Digital Personal Assistant helping us do more with our time.

Data will continue to grow in importance and will focus on generating Actionable Intelligence using Machine Learning systems to derive insight. It will give Local Government an opportunity to look at how it can embrace a more open data culture to bring their rich datasets together in a way that can help them understand and tackle challenging areas.

How services are offered and consumed by citizens will also go through transformation as Micro Services Architecture is embraced. This will enable focused tackling of discrete aspects of service before they are then aggregated into a collective solution. Personalisation will become more of a need than a nice to have and data will be key to helping drive this understanding and service delivery model.

In summary, 2016 was a good year as organisational thinking around the use of technology matured and evolved bringing more options, solutions, innovation and ultimately beneficial outcomes. 2017 is when Systems of Intelligence will provide opportunities for the public sector to deliver more user-centric, personalised and contextual services. Some of the key technology areas that will help Local Government with this are:

  • Machine Learning – to help provide a more personalised experience which is agnostic of service delivery channels
  • On-Demand Services – to enable employees, managers and citizens to access the things they need
  • Choose Your Own model – to provide a more flexible and responsive IT function that supports employees in doing their jobs more efficiently and productively
  • Micro Services Architecture – to change the way services are designed to remove the complexity of large system redevelopment
  • API First – to provide a more dynamic approach to systems integration
  • Device agnostic services – to remove the barriers to individuals accessing the facilities they need, when they need them, through whatever means works for them

Thinking and acting differently

There is no doubt that technology has a significant role to play in helping local government achieve the savings they need, and that though a strategic approach to delivering digital services at scale, authorities can realise significant benefits.

At Sopra Steria we are seeing local authorities thinking differently about how they can approach their current challenges and looking to external partners to help them embrace a more agile service delivery model.

What are your thoughts for Local Government as we head into 2017? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Transforming local public services through use of innovative technology

Delivering differently, delivering digitally

Local authorities face growing challenges to continue to deliver more for less. In recent years they have had to cope with decreasing budgets, growing demand and higher citizen expectations bringing us to a position today where Council Leaders need to consider a radical approach to service delivery.

Technology has the potential to provide tools which support new ways of working, enhance existing capabilities and provide a platform for innovation and transformation that meets the needs and expectations of citizens.

We can consider the ways that technology can support local government under three broad categories:

  • Supporting a flexible and modern workforce
  • Improving the delivery and efficiency of processes
  • Providing simple access to services

The ever-growing capabilities of technologies enables a new approach to support these categories and leads us to consider some key technologies that local government could introduce to support positive transformation.

Supporting a flexible and modern workforce

The local authority workforce wants systems which are easy to use and which help them to deliver their roles effectively. To create a flexible environment which supports workforce development Cloud, or on-demand, solutions offer transformational changes in the way that employees, and citizens, can engage and consume services.

Key technologies that local authorities could consider to create a new digitally forward organisation include

  • On-Demand Services – to enable employees, managers and citizens to access the technology and services they need
  • Choose Your Own model – provides a more flexible and responsive IT function to support employees to do their jobs more efficiently and productively
  • Device agnostic services – removes the barriers to individuals accessing the facilities they need, when they need them, through whatever means works best for them

By providing easy-to-use tools, systems and services which are fast and reliable, on whichever device an employee chooses to use, the modern workforce can be equipped to be more productive, customer centric and adaptable. Using technology smarter provides employees with the most valuable commodity of all – time. This released time can then support improved service delivery where it is most needed. Sopra Steria has helped councils like Eastbourne Borough Council to review their working practices and to develop new more agile operating models that both reduce cost and improve the delivery of services through a better use of available technologies.

Delivering through efficient and informed processes

Any service improvement plan must consider the process layer and how this can be improved through the appropriate implementation of technology. Emerging technologies can improve processes and how services are delivered; these include these key technologies:

  • Machine Learning – to help provide a more personalised experience which is agnostic of service delivery channels
  • Micro Services Architecture – changes the way services are designed to remove the complexity of large system redevelopment
  • API First – provides a more dynamic approach to systems integration

The emergence of Artificial Intelligent based technologies including robotics, cognitive computing, machine learning, natural language processing and data processing techniques give local government new options for radically improving existing and new processes.

The opportunity such technologies provides can allow local government to re-envisage processes – so rather than just replicate from old technology to new, they can ask ‘if we were to do the process today how would we do it.’ Sopra Steria is currently introducing this thinking and technology to help Shepway Council to improve its Revenues and Benefits processes. The benefits that the Council will see are a reduction in delivery cost and the ability to free resources to concentrate on more complex cases.

Providing simple access to services

In today’s fast digital environment local government needs to be adaptable and offer services which are simple, easy to use and meet the needs of a changing society that is increasingly comfortable with new technologies. The growth of smartphone usage, for example, has opened up new opportunities for citizens to engage with the local authority, increasing the ability to create small consumable services that are smarter and more targeted towards citizen needs. Using large scale legacy technologies to deliver services is something which is no longer cost, or service efficient with the technology typically constraining which services can be made available.

Citizens are becoming more tech savvy and expect quick and easy access to services, just as they do from other sectors. Local services need to become smarter and personalised as much as possible to allow users to quickly access the information and/or service needed. Sopra Steria has supported the residents of Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council to interact more efficiently with the council by introducing ‘my Hinckley’ web access. This recognises the resident by the use of their post code, and then personalises the content of the website to provide only relevant information.

Introducing digital services at scale

It can be seen from the few examples above that there is no doubt that technology has a significant role to play in helping local government achieve both savings and service improvements, but it’s introduction is best considered within a strategic approach to best realise the potential benefits of delivering digital services at scale.

Councils must begin to think differently from the traditional approach and should see external suppliers as partners tackling shared challenges. They shouldn’t be afraid to embrace a more agile and outcome-defined service delivery model that incorporates both internal and external skills and capabilities working towards common goals.

Combining new digital technologies with innovative thinking will help forward-thinking councils to fundamentally break the mould of traditional ways of working for the benefit of their customers who are ready for change and are themselves embracing new technologies in their everyday lives.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

This blog was also published as a techUK Insight article on 9 September, 2016