Collaboration between local public services and industry is key to innovation

The launch of the new London Office for Technology and Innovation is an opportunity to examine how industry and government can work together better to improve local innovation

We need to ensure that collaboration is more than just a buzzword – that it becomes the norm across our digital ecosystem. Collaboration is more than just sharing knowledge and experiences, which are very important things – there also needs to be a shared ambition for all the key players.

The highly anticipated London Office for Technology and Innovation (LOTI) can be the model for what good collaboration in a region looks like. Significantly, it is launching during London Tech Week on 10 June, a week that celebrates how tech can have a profoundly positive impact in society and business.

LOTI will act as a collaborative vehicle to strengthen the London boroughs’ ability to innovate, build common capability and to scale up digital innovation across the capital’s public services – a worthwhile mission given the complexities of local government.

LOTI provides an important step as London looks to achieve its ambition to create world-leading smart places and communities where citizens want to live, work and thrive. If done right, LOTI could provide a model for other regions to adopt to scale up innovation and best practice.

Local government challenges

There is a familiar narrative around local government – fragmented and hard to navigate if you are a small business or new entrant – yet it is one of the most exciting markets for innovation because of the number of lines of business it is responsible for.

This means technology can make a real difference to the lives of citizens. That is why initiatives such as LOTI should be commended for bringing together local public services – but suppliers are an important part of this ecosystem, and should also be included.

It is not about suppliers selling to councils, but rather working together to create the conditions for meaningful transformation. Suppliers need to be part of the conversation. You need the infrastructure in place for collaboration. That means interoperability and standards, and if they are to succeed, suppliers need to be part of the journey.

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It is not about what is the latest technology for councils to use, but what is the problem that technology can help solve? Earlier this year, TechUK and the Local Government Information Unit brought together local authorities and industry to interrogate the challenges facing children’s services, and how they can help manage demand on children’s services and support prevention strategies. It was a great example of people coming together with a shared purpose and highlighting the art of the possible.

Also, for LOTI to realise its ambition to improve London’s capacity to experiment and collaborate on digital and data innovation, it needs to be able to access the latest innovations, which often means small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

TechUK’s report, Procuring for innovation and growth, highlighted the lack of pre-procurement industry engagement, a sub-optimal understanding of how smaller businesses can address public sector needs, and the difficulty in sharing good practice. If remedied, this could make a real difference to engagement with SMEs.

Local public services need to harness the expertise and innovation that SMEs can bring in order to ensure that public service delivery keeps pace with demand and expectations. LOTI could be that vehicle for London.

We were pleased to see Eddie Copeland appointed LOTI director. Copeland has a deep understanding of both the opportunities and the challenges of implementing new digital technologies to address the City’s most pressing problems, while seeing the potential it has in re-imagining outcomes and the places we live.

Transformation progress

I am optimistic about local government transformation, as there have been clear examples of progress so far. There is Wigan’s award-winning The Deal, which aims to use technology to facilitate the delivery of integrated services, with communities at the heart of service delivery. The council has worked closely with voluntary, third sector and private sector partners to support community initiatives that use technology to create self-reliance.

Aylesbury Vale District Council’s use of artificial intelligence (AI) to boost customer service is another exemplar. The council has introduced a service that learns from previous residents’ conversations and can improve council response time to queries on services such as council tax, benefit entitlement and bin collection.

Last summer, we also saw the launch of the Local Digital Declaration, of which TechUK was pleased to be a co-publisher with local authorities, sector bodies and government departments. It outlined a shared ambition for improved collaboration and creating the conditions needed for the next generation of local public services. There are many more great examples and initiatives happening across local government.

We look forward to working with the LOTI team to grow London’s thriving tech ecosystem and improve outcomes for all London citizens – but it is essential that that industry is seen as a key partner in its development, and not an afterthought.

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