Nine out of ten Australians live in a town or city and two-thirds of us live in a capital city. Citizens are serviced by local councils which have traditionally supplied services, infrastructure and resources. Today they’re also facing the demands of accomplishing more with fewer resources, maximising efficiencies and responding to citizens who are increasingly sophisticated and digitally-savvy. This puts increased pressure on cash-strapped councils, which must navigate the evolving worlds of digital and technology to make sure cities are liveable and sustainable, as well as meeting the needs of their ‘customers’.
The KPMG Report, Key Steps to Council Transformation, examined how councils are approaching this daunting task. An effective ICT strategy is part of a wider transformation process that includes citizen engagement, governance, whole-of-IT, and must be led from the top, involving all levels of the organisation. Clearly defined, this strategy must truly meet the needs of the community and the organisation.
The Report revealed most councils faced similar challenges. Most rate their ICT and digital maturity as relatively low. This means minimal automation, disparate systems and high levels of manual and paper-based processes. For many councils, part of the problem is knowing where to start as the scope of work appears at first to be overwhelming.
The secret is carefully integrated planning. Councils which have done their homework and argued a strong business case that realises all benefits within a phased approach, are the most likely to succeed.
Glen Eira City Council in Victoria is an example of a forward-thinking organisation that calls itself a ‘digital adopter’. In just 12 months, the council has completed 14 digitised transactions, from front to back end. Their approach is holistic, encompassing processes and people. Forging great partnerships between their digital and IT teams, they have adopted a collective focus to improve user experience and build solid foundations.
Some services that were previously done manually by an employee can now be accessed through a portal by the customer. Glen Eira has ensured front end ‘glitz’ is fully supported by technical improvements at the back end which underpin total service delivery.
Transformation is not simply a question of products and tools. There’s also the human factor, staff needs to consider and a focus on the people experience, both within and without.
Internally, transformation will require staff to do things differently. Some embrace change while others are more resistant. Change means looking at customers in different ways and frequent, open communication builds confidence in the project and allows staff to up-skill and adjust.
Citizens also need to be taken along the council’s transformation journey in order to engage with it – that could mean reaching out to the community to build awareness of the project, address relevant issues and gain the trust of community leaders. This is important, as transformation is more often than not funded by rate payers, who need to understand why change is happening and how it will benefit them.
Such transformation doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s important to have the leadership team on side for optimal results. The Report highlighted that for two-thirds of local councils, the impetus for change has come from the CEO, who champions the project, and builds a collaborative environment for teams to experiment, learn, evolve and deliver.
One local council in New South Wales has abided by the following mantra in its change strategy:
‘The Customer comes first! Then, definitely People and Culture!’
Such synergy is a definite recipe for ICT and digital transformation success.