Building Resilience through the Crisis and Beyond
How councils can make digital technologies work for them
The current crisis has created unprecedented challenges for councils. At the outset, many struggled to implement the right systems and processes to support remote working and ensure service continuity.
As lockdown progressed, councils that struggled most were those that did not have their back office systems fully hosted and those that had not put mobile working practices in place. Often, local authorities had some kind of digital capability but many knew it might not suffice over the longer term. They understood these weaknesses stemmed from a lack of previous investment in technology capable of supporting more flexible working.
Given all that, as we transition through the recovery phase, COVID-19 may herald a sea-change in technology investment as councils increasingly value the need to have resilient systems in place to better manage service delivery. This may not, after all, be the last pandemic we see. We’re already witnessing further localised lockdown restrictions needing to be put in place – and councils appreciate they need to be ready for that.
Some have already learnt, from previous severe winter weather or recent flooding, the benefits that contingency plans, including for remote working backed by digital technologies, can bring.
Ultimately, having a combination of online hosted back office systems and mobile working in place at times of crisis gives councils the flexibility to manage situations more effectively. They don’t have to worry, for example, about systems going down because they know that a third party will be able to maintain the system for them remotely.
Councils have been under pressure to keep at least a minimal level of service running in areas like waste collection. That has meant, some having to switch staff over from other service areas like street cleansing or green spaces. Easy-to-use mobile working systems have added flexibility and made operating in this way more viable.
As we come out of lockdown and look to the future of council services, necessity is likely to become ‘the mother of invention’. The pandemic has driven many to start to adopt remote working and to look at ways they can improve their online portals and capability in order to interact with citizens. They have had to become more agile.
COVID-19 has in this way acted as a catalyst for change. It has also shone a light on the need for councils to be more agile in areas like asset management and maintenance. The latest connected asset management platforms can certainly play a part here. If they are software-as-a-service based, they can be accessed from anywhere.
They facilitate working from home, which has become essential in the current climate and also mobile working, meaning that operational staff out on the frontline can be tasked with new jobs or have their projects changed quickly and easily. Having a consistent user interface and user experience in place also makes it easier for councils to move staff between services areas, where the need for regular staff to take time off for illness or self-isolation dictates.
Connectivity is also key in a lockdown. It is easy for back office teams to assign work and for engineers and inspection teams to log when they have completed it. If systems have an open application programming interface (API), it is easy for them to connect with other systems and through such an approach make key information publicly available and keep citizens informed.
As we look to the future, there is a growing difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Those councils that have online capability and mobile systems, and technology that provides the ability to communicate and collaborate, have been more agile and able to adjust quickly to the ‘new normal’. Moving forwards, more councils will realise that to deal more effectively with the next crises, they will need to have the latest connected digital technologies in place.