Issue 14 - December 2016

PREPARING FOR THE DIGITAL FUTURE

By Jonathan Bradshaw, Director of Technology, Agilisys

The term digital is a much used, confused and abused word today. Whenever I hear anyone using it, I find myself listening intently to understand the depth of their thinking. To some, digital is simply about enabling people to use their iPhone to do the things that they have previously done face to face or with paper or over the phone. To others it runs deeper, covering not just interactions with customers and end users but also the automation of all things end to end. To others still, digital is about a much broader implementation of all the technology that we have at our fingertips to maximise the benefit for people, our culture and society in general.

This latter definition is starting to get to the heart of what I think digital and being digital is about. Smart phones and tablets are just the visible technology tip of the digital iceberg. Beneath the water are all the major technology mega trends of today and tomorrow such as cloud, big data, analytics, mobile, social media and artificial learning to name just a few on a growing list. Digital for me is about applying this technology to do new things and doing existing things better whilst driving organisational and cultural change for the benefit of us all.


The progress of local authorities in Scotland and wider UK in grasping the digital opportunity is mixed. The latest results from the SOCITM Better Connected survey showed that although local authorities are increasingly enabling transactions online, there is still a long way to go. When assessed on the ability to transact basic services such as applying for housing, booking leisure facilities and travel passes online, more than 25% of local authorities were typically rated with the 1 star ‘poor’ rating, with only a small percentage achieving the top 4 star ‘very good’ rating.

Looking beyond moving services online, there remains huge potential for local authorities that realise the opportunities before them. Use of cloud technology to enable rapid access to new capabilities as well as reducing infrastructure costs is only just emerging. A recent Agilisys survey found that only 54% of councils currently use cloud based services somewhere in their organisation whilst 24% had no plans to use them whatsoever. As I meet local authority IT and business leads around the country, I see similar major as yet untapped opportunities to use readily available and proven technology to drive benefits in areas such making the authority’s workforce mobile and building data intelligence capabilities to become data driven organisations.

… digital is about a much broader implementation of all the technology that we have at our fingertips to maximise the benefit for people, our culture and society in general.

Given the effort and investment needed to move services online and also to exploit the wider promise of digital, it’s easy to make the assumption that all citizens and staff possess the necessary skills to embrace this new way of working. But the facts prove this assumption to be incorrect. In Scotland, 30% of people don’t have basic digital skills and 15% have never used the internet. These are the most severely digitally excluded. They are people who can’t benefit from the investment made in online services and who are in general far less able to help themselves. Given that a large part of the strategic answer to major issues, such as the increased demand for social care services, is for people to take a greater responsibility for their own wellbeing, this is a major problem for public sector organisations. Indeed for the economy in general, a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has argued that achieving 100% digital inclusion would have a £14.3b benefit to the UK over the next 10 years.

There are some innovative ways forward where local authorities can, and are, working to address this skills gap. For example the Good Things Foundation is a charity which, amongst many initiatives, has established the Online Centres Network. This is a network of 5,000 local community partners such as libraries, GP practises and social housing providers. The Good Things Foundation provides these centres with guidance, training and tools to teach people basic digital skills. Since 2010 they have helped over 2m people get online and improve their digital literacy and competence. They also work with local authorities to establish digital inclusion programmes for local communities as part of a service transformation programme.
There is also the potential to use Social Impact Bonds to achieve increased digital inclusion. These bonds provide a mechanism where investors pay for a set of interventions to improve a social and financial outcomes that are of interest to a public service commissioner. If the social outcomes are achieved, the investors are repaid along with a return for the risk that they took. Big Capital Society, established by the Cabinet Office, is one example of an organisation investing in UK Social Impact Bonds and other social investment mechanisms as part of a £600m investment fund.

….report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has argued that achieving 100% digital inclusion would have a £14.3b benefit to the UK over the next 10 years.

One area of current excitement within Agilisys is the development of a Social Impact Bond brokering service to help councils develop business cases that attract Social Investment. Within this, we are working with a London borough on the development of a bond to support digital skills education to a cohort of adults with learning disabilities. The hypothesis is that if many in this vulnerable group are able to successfully secure jobs in the digital industry post training, they will become more self-sufficient and the council will be able to make material savings that play some part in responding to the funding and demand challenges faced by social services.

We live in an increasingly complex interdependent world with interconnected problems. I’m reminded and excited everyday by the endless creativity of the technology industry and the tools at our disposal to respond to the challenges we face. But as a closer look at what’s really involved with becoming a digital organisation with a digital society to match shows, realising the benefits that technology promises doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey with stopping points rather than a destination and it takes broad thinking along with skill, persistence and leadership to stay on the road. Whilst it may be hard work with mishaps along the way, given the challenges we face and the opportunities we have, it’s the right journey to be making.

Jonathan Bradshaw, Director of Technology, Agilisys

By Jonathan Bradshaw, Director of Technology, Agilisys

Issue 14 - December 2016

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