How do you define digital?
And what does it mean for local government?
Digital. Digital transformation, digital programmes, digital services, digital capability, digital strategy…
As with so many words and phrases, ‘digital’ is so overused that its meaning has become blurred and diluted. Many of us working in technology hear and see ‘digital’ used in myriad ways on a daily basis, often in relation to applications and interoperability, or even as a substitute for ‘IT’ or ‘technology’. But what does it actually mean and why does it matter?
Across virtually every area of local government, there is continual pressure to deliver a growing number of increasingly efficient and convenient services while simultaneously finding ways to make savings. Yet with most treading water just to keep afloat, this can seem virtually impossible.
As PWC’s latest annual survey The Local State We’re In 2017 points out, the past year or so has been fuelled by uncertainty and transition for local government, from the EU referendum, the new devolved mayors, to the recent snap General Election. Perhaps all this might help explain why this year’s survey found a significant drop in digital confidence compared with the 2016 study.
Nevertheless at the same time, the 2017 publication also found a substantial increase in the number of respondents who felt digital would facilitate new ways of communicating with citizens and communities, indicating that an appetite for digital advancement still exists. A sound digital strategy could provide a valuable first step towards both enabling these new forms of communication and renewing lost confidence, although this can only be achieved alongside a thorough understanding of what ‘digital’ entails and where it fits into an organisation’s business plan.
This is an area I have explored in detail in a new paper, ‘Defining Digital: A Business Enabler for Local Government’, where I refer to digital in the context of business enablement and technology planning. In a world where it’s almost impossible to imagine any business plan being developed without considering technology and the many benefits it can deliver, digital should play an integral role in any organisation’s business planning process, providing the bridge between business and technology strategies.
In other words, digital can be a business enabler that synchronises business planning with technology investment, maximising technology’s business value.
In fact, a clear digital strategy can inform every area of an organisation, from employee workspace and tools to public service delivery, as well as its obvious technology requirements (data centres, network architectures, security, etc.). And with STPs calling for greater collaboration across health and care, it can also support communication with internal and external agencies including education partners, housing associations and the third sector.
A digital strategy is also a good starting point for planning and implementing newer developments such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart town/city advancements, all of which can potentially reduce costs and lead to better citizen services.
In this ever-changing environment for the public sector, traditional business plans and project-oriented investments – typically funded through an annual capital budget – are neither sustainable nor appropriate in a digital world, becoming disconnected as priorities change year on year. Rather, any investment in technology should be integrated with the business plan as part of the digital strategy.
So, now that we’ve defined digital for local government, the next stage is work to develop a framework for digitisation. In meantime however, for more information read the paper, check out our local government web pages, or contact us directly.