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Digital Transformation Going Slowly for Local U.K. Authorities

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Local governments are generally not considered “early adopters” when it comes to technology. Citizens tend to be the ones who use the latest technology, then almost have to force local governments and agencies to finally begin using it. But, government adoption of technology always seems to progress slowly.

A recent survey of 75 U.K. councils showed that two-thirds of them offer less than half of their services online. In fact, less than 40 percent of them were offering less than one-fourth of their services online.

While these figures suggest that digital transformation progress is slow, the survey also shows that the majority of local authority plans are to push forward, with two-thirds of them planning to offer more than half of their services online by 2016.

It is not surprising that it is taking so long for government and public sector agencies in the U.K. to get more services online. I previously talked about the tactical nature that has been taken by many toward government digital transformation, characterized by putting the simpler services online first. However, this is partly because the more complex services require higher levels of security and identification, which pose a significant barrier.

This is not to suggest that putting all services online is the ultimate aim. I am against so-called digital-only strategies, as services must be tailored to suit the needs of the community and the specific circumstances of the exchange. When dealing with more sensitive inquiries, such as those around social services, face-to-face or over-the-phone interactions should be the go-to channels.

For those services that are moved online, it makes sense to prioritize the ones that can help improve the customer experience and reduce operational costs, such as those that rely heavily on contact center time and staff resources. It’s not a good strategy to simply focus on the services that are easiest to put online—instead, organizations should put themselves in the customers’ shoes and listen to feedback to make better informed decisions.

My views are somewhat supported by this survey, which shows that slightly less than one-third of councils prioritize based on the most accessed services, and 15 percent prioritize based on customer feedback.

Making services available online is one thing, but getting citizens to actually use them is another. One aspect of this is providing support when needed. An important example of this is the provision of a chat and co-browse capability, allowing councils to help citizens successfully complete their online journeys. The survey shows that less than 10 percent of these 75 councils have implemented chat so far. What really surprised me was that 42 percent are planning to implement it—in my view, this will be critical to delivering councils’ desired digital transformation outcomes.

Another of my predictions was around the increasing use of social media by government and public sector agencies. And, this latest research seems to support that, with 78 percent having already implemented social listening practices and 41 percent having already implemented social engagement practices.

In this digital age, it’s encouraging to see some striving to adopt a more digital-first approach, but there’s still a long way to go. Authorities’ underlying infrastructures will play a pivotal role and should be the first consideration in this type of initiative. While the focus must be on digital, it’s neither beneficial nor realistic to move most or all services online. Successful digital strategies recognize the need to support citizens through the provision of multiple channels, including chat, email, voice and human interaction.

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