Mega leaps: it’s time for leaders to challenge everything

Mega leaps: it’s time for leaders to challenge everything

Private sector disruptors offer lessons in how to take a whole-system approach, says Tim Pitts, founding member at Triple Value Impact

In previous columns we’ve talked about why local government is at the stage where it must think boldly about transformation and embrace the full capability of digital solutions. I firmly believe, as do the numerous local authority leaders I’ve discussed this with, that local government must drive these transformational ‘mega leaps’ if they are to considerably improve outcomes.

For local authorities to truly become digital enablers, there is a clear need to pivot business models and rethink service delivery, akin to how Airbnb, Uber and Netflix have. It’s no coincidence that businesses doing well in the private sector are underpinned by digitisation. While local authorities are very different from the private sector, there is no reason we can’t use the thinking, approach and technology.

Take an overview

The ‘easy’ approach is to deal with the presenting problem. But to make a mega leap, one needs to step back and look at the whole system – and aim to go as far upstream/early in demand as possible. This sounds simple, but it is challenging given the relentless demands on everyone.

Take potholes. In a unitary or county there are between 20 and 50 people involved in potholes (contact centre, highways officers, all the supporting functions, etc). The typical response is to put the pothole reporting process online to avoid contact in the contact centre (ie the tail end of the process), which addresses a handful of demand. However, look at the entire system and available technology. You can reduce demand on all involved and repurpose the savings to focus on the roads themselves.

Digitisation essentially gives you the levers to manage demand up or down. C-suite leaders must be prepared to challenge everything their organisation does – and embrace the methodologies of successful private sector disruptors.

Personalised digital marketing is a hugely under-utilised weapon in local government

You might be asking what digital has to do with many services, including reducing the cost of waste. Yet the potential for lowering landfill tax is massive by influencing customer behaviour – personalised digital marketing is a hugely under-utilised weapon in local government. If we think about flying, airlines do everything possible to reduce demand at the airport through online check-in, reminders about baggage limits, notifications about gates and delays and so on. All of this is about influencing the customer to do something different.

The same thinking can be applied to recycling.

I heard recently at a conference that 70% of children’s social care time is spent on administration. In the past, the insurance sector was in a similar position. Buying a policy would have involved an underwriter assessing an application and multiple manual processes. Now data is used to assess risk without underwriter involvement in most cases. The insurer’s data is all connected, so they don’t need to do many of the previous costly manual steps but maintain checks and balances. The forms are largely pre-filled, and the time spent by both the insurer and end user is a fraction of what it used to be (and in most cases, paper free), allowing for end-to-end electronic processing and better customer experience.

The year of data

Local authorities can transform in the same way. At the heart of a mega leap is the need to understand demand, what it is, where it is coming from, what is creating it, and what levers are available to alter it. Local authorities are sitting on rich and diverse datasets that, when cleansed and connected, will provide transformative actionable insight.

I was privileged to sit on the LGC Digital Impact award panel. This year was the year of data, with some fabulous examples including the use of AI in the environmental team at Lancaster City Council, the use of data to auto-award grants by several authorities enabled by Policy in Practice, while the winner, Stockport MBC, had developed a data-driven culture to underpin its digital transformation. There is, however, a long way to go, and these neat examples are the tip of the iceberg and the key to unlocking the mega leap.

In adult social care we are seeing the use of AI to predict when someone will become vulnerable to falls before they have their first fall, auto-prescribe IoT in-home technology to provide real-time monitoring, which can be shared with family/friends/neighbours, so they become the first and second port of call if a fall happens. But can you connect this data with other digital interventions to make changes to the whole system, including health? This is only a matter of time.

Barriers remain to the mega leaps needed to unlock this potential, including culture, capacity and capability. The correct modern, cloud-enabled and clean IT foundations are equally important. We must embrace creative commercial models that fund IT modernisation at a net-nil cost while reducing revenue pressure and providing the required budgetary space and digital foundations. We’re confident that, with our partners, we’ve found the answer – and we would love the opportunity to talk you through it.