Local Gov Camp 2018 Blog

Digital Self Service: Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services?

Digital Self Service: Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services?

Digital Self Service: Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services? 1000 666 Jon Hogg

Introduction

At LocalGovCamp18 in Birmingham we ran a session aimed at local authority leaders who are concerned that the execution of their digital self-service strategies are not delivering the desired outcomes.

We looked to uncover and discuss why many councils are still struggling to implement these changes; and for those who have, why are those changes failing to deliver on the expected service improvements and operational efficiencies.

In the session we aimed to:

  • Review the progress councils have made implementing their self-service strategies
  • Take a user’s perspective on the effectiveness and ease of use of a selection of online services
  • Explore the barriers to successful digital transformation and why they are not being removed
  • Identify strategies councils can adopt to ensure online services deliver a better user experience for citizens and businesses.

 

So what did we discover?

Our aim was to be able to answer the 3 follow up points around the key question of “Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services?”

  1. Are your digital self-service strategies delivering the desired outcomes?
  2. Are you still struggling to implement the changes you set out 8 years ago?
  3. Are the changes you have made delivering the expected service improvements and operational efficiencies?

“So what do we need to achieve to deliver these fantastic Digital Self Services”, was the question we posed to the room.  And then we listened (and listened) and…

There was much to be said around this topic, especially the blockers that were inhibiting progress.  The benefits are clear and obvious but there are fundamental blockers to progress that must be addressed to create a positive platform for progress, including:

A fear of engaging with customers/citizens during the service design and user experience (UX) phases for numerous reasons including: because they don’t want to be criticised for wasting money, are afraid of hearing the truth about the current quality of service provided and importantly, don’t always have the available budget (which surely is a mistake if you create a poor UX that delivers failure demand then the budget will be spent on putting things right rather than investing in being proactive and getting it right first time?)

Councils are prudent/risk averse and see change as a huge risk, particularly if it requires a big change and potentially large investment.  They will generally only change if they feel savings will be significant and the risk is low.  They also prefer to stay with what they know, even if better alternatives exist, unless they are forced to change for political reasons.

A challenge for new suppliers especially, is they prefer established products and solutions and anything new or bespoke is seen as a risk that may not work and can’t be seen/tested beforehand.

Collaboration is firmly sitting in the difficult box, for numerous reasons, i.e. trust, ego, pride, politics, etc… all get in the way of doing what they should be doing, i.e. reducing costs by working together effectively.

Focus and priorities are key in the current economic climate. As one delegate wisely said: “We are still trying to digitally transform as an organisation so digitally transforming services are only one of many priorities we have to juggle”. This may also go a long way to explaining the reticence in engaging users in the process of digitising council services. If enough of the decision makers are not not ‘digital savvy’ and do not fully understand how moving services online will benefit both council and citizens,  they are bound to see more risks than opportunities.

 

In summary

So what did we learn from that?  Well, millions are being spent on serving customers poorly using out of date processes and supporting legacy technologies and often not supporting the channel the customer selects eg: not formatted for mobiles.   These barriers to excellent modern customer service provision need to be overcome whilst balancing the risk versus opportunity; remembering that digital transformation means transforming people as well as systems.  Fear must not paralyse action and we all need to be brave and wise enough to be driven by citizens needs and providing an excellent user experience.