Local authorities are being held back by their legacy IT systems from delivering improved and cost-effective digital services.
Some 78% of local authorities cite legacy systems and ICT infrastructure as the biggest barrier to digital progress, followed by lack of development funds (59%).
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Other barriers included cultural discomfort with digital change (50%) and unwillingness to change (49%).
Meanwhile, 91% of local authorities believe digital will help their organisation to deliver better for less, with 80% believing technologies will make organisations more cost effective.
The government’s Local Digital Today report, conducted by the UK Authority and commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, surveyed 178 local authority personnel and 22 suppliers. Some 37% of the sample were top-level CEOs, CFOs and CIOs, 44% senior management and 19% frontline officers.
The survey, which was supported by the Local Government Association, Socitm, Local CIO council, Local Government Delivery Board, Local Contact Council and LocalGov Digital, also stated that 80% of local authorities say digital leadership across local government is key to delivering digital success.
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth and parliamentary under-secretary of state, department for communities and local government, said the digital by default vision is now supported by most people and businesses.
“Putting local services online, rather than using face-to-face, postal or phone options, will not only deliver substantial savings to the public purse, but will also save users time and money while they enjoy a better service," he said.
Lewis said it is essential for councils to work together to deliver the ultimate goal of “excellent, cost-efficient digital and assisted digital services that our citizens choose to use”.
But 40% of councils that have rolled out digital programmes have not yet saved money from using digital tools.
“It is heartening that six in 10 councils are already reporting savings from their digital endeavours," he said. "Few would dispute the willingness and ability of many of our citizens to engage with public services online. Fewer still would dispute the cost savings that can be made from the move to digital services and processes.”
CIO at Hampshire County Council and chairman of the Local CIO Council Jos Creese said: “There is still surprisingly little data and evidence about the power of digital to modernise the public sector. We all know that channel shift to web transactions saves money, but it’s not enough.
“Much more evidence exists in the private sector where digital leaders are shown to outperform their peers in every industry. Yet the public sector now depends on a shift to digital delivery wherever possible to drive out cost while protecting services.”
But when asked if digital technologies would help to regenerate local economy, almost half of local authorities did not know. Local authorities were also uncertain whether digital would help to enable councils to flexibly outsource services to other organisations (42%), improved accountability to the public through making the council’s performance more transparent (35%) and enable elected councilors to engage with citizens they represent (30%).
Additionally, 49% do not believe digital technologies will “give equal access to all citizens”, demonstrating a need to develop an “assisted digital” access to services, for those citizens less likely to use digital.
While councils are depending on their CIOs to lead digital success, head of customer service (58%) and web managers (52%) were also cited in the research as leaders. “Like everything in local government, there is a variety of approaches and that is not a bad thing,” said one council respondent.
Another respondent said: “Digital technology can help, but only if there is sufficient investment capability and the organisation (and its partners) develop an appropriate culture and working style to maximise the benefits.”
“Technology is only a tool. It depends on what we can – and are allowed to – do with it.”
Councils have been restricted internally for some time with what mobile technologies they have been able to introduce. But the government has now officially allowed public sector organisations to introduce bring your own device (BYOD) schemes for employees to access data and applications using their own mobile devices.
The regulations mean for the first time local authorities are officially allowed to use BYOD schemes, but a report from the CESG places several restrictions on how staff-owned devices must be used, and implicitly acknowledges that it would prefer public bodies not to offer BYOD if possible.