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Navigating Digital Transformation

This article originally featured in The MJ.

With an overwhelming focus on digital transformation to deliver efficiencies, councils are looking for best practice to ensure their digital strategies are successful and meet the ongoing user requirements.  As we move to the Internet of Everything, public services must be able to adapt as quickly as the technology market surrounding them.

Cash collection, revenues and benefits need to move with the times in order to keep the money coming in.  A new generation of taxpayers expect automated simple processes and struggle to engage without them in a world where for many it is all they have known.

A key element for success is preparation. Digital strategies must be based on a detailed and accurate knowledge of the market. We regularly see councils suffering the effects of out of date hardware and software having entered into long term partnering arrangements which leave them feeling trapped as the world outside moves at a different speed.

Councils, often bound by time consuming procurement exercises, need to have true sector specialists on board from the start. People who not only know the market and its 5 - 10 year roadmap, but who can also forge relationships with potential providers to smooth the commercial discussions and get the best out of the relationship.

Our top tips for getting the best outcome from digital procurements are:

  • know your market and where it is going;
  • determine the order of implementation that will need to occur - what are the ‘must haves’ and what are the future ‘would likes’;
  • ensure your basket of hardware and software providers can and will work together to deliver your outcomes - a matching of cultures is key;
  • build flexibility in partnering arrangements to allow for future changes with mechanics which really incentivise your partner to make the changes you will need - do not rely on promises bid at the outset of a procurement;
  • do you want single supplier or a tower? Towers can be difficult to manage, even with collaboration agreements in place;
  • be clear on all providers and the Council’s roles in delivering the outputs - don’t let anything fall between the gaps; and
  • make sure you have the information you need from existing providers to feed the systems on go live or at least the right to get that information when you need it. If you don’t have those rights, start negotiating for them now as this is something we regularly see hold up implementations and cost Councils dearly.

Digital agendas need to have more than political buy-in, they need to be driven by the politicians. As the world around us changes, clunky or difficult to navigate customer service websites and an inability to get fast responses to customer queries will not spread a good message about a council or its politicians. Ensure you allow enough time to robustly test the solutions during the procurement and at implementation, and the time and ability to get out of the contract if things aren’t working.

Councils need to properly resource this area and plan for this resourcing as the employment market for data analysts and software developers is strained. In a market where insourcing is becoming the buzzword, this applies equally to the technology sector. Councils will need to develop and build their own technology function to be able to keep up with the changing times in a nimble and affordable way. Looking to the future, it is important that you make sure your contracts give you the right to the intellectual property that you have paid for and the data that is being held for you on exit.

For any more information please contact Lucy Woods a Senior Associate from our Public Sector Team on l.woods@ashfords.co.uk

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