Seven digital government trends to look out for in 2018

Tim Pitts, Managing Partner at Agilisys, highlights seven tech trends he believes will be central to local government digital transformation in 2018


Trend #1 – Optimising existing digital investments

As the pressures on councils continue to mount, I expect more and more councils to focus on getting the fundamentals right. So many authorities are still grappling with some of the challenges and opportunities presented by digital. The three central focal points for 2018:

  1. Council websites are built and re-built, but rarely properly monitored to understand how effective they are for the customer, or to understand the level of user journey failures that are resulting in calls to the contact centre – it is not unusual to see 40% of customers who start on the web but end up calling the contact centre.
  1. The level and quality of automated, high-volume, high-cost transactions available online is still relatively limited. Even when they do exist, they are often left behind once the big project has completed, with no monitoring of customer usage, failure points, signposting and use of SEO. Managing the change for both customers and internal staff is a relatively straightforward and low-cost quick win which will improve ROI on existing investments.
  1. All too often local authorities have fragmented digital environments with lots of line of business web portals popping up all over council websites with very little join-up. Data shows that there is a much higher degree of cross-service take-up if services can be accessed through one single account – the challenge with this is a lack of standards, which certain providers are using to create a barrier to their products.


Trend #2 – Digital identities

Central government has GOV.UK Verify, Scotland has MyGov.Scot and many of the regional authorities are looking to create a local ‘digital identity’ to join up services across different parts of the public sector.

For example, we have seen a number of authorities looking at ways to join up the different public sector bodies through the creation of a local digital ID. This will be a big theme for 2018 as authorities continually look for ways to create a digital identity for their region, rather than using the national government solutions. Health and social care link up is a key driver.

The biggest question is whether GOV.UK Verify will develop further to meet the needs of local government, and whether this will drive the badly needed standards for integration (e.g. single sign-on).


Trend #3 – Robotics, bots & AI

Use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a neat way of automating certain processes and services and will no doubt grow in popularity in 2018 as it is fairly easy to set-up, is relatively non-technical and can really boost efficiency. However, there are limitations to be aware of – for example APIs are a more efficient method of real-time validation.

Bots are more complicated to develop and integrate but they are a very effective way to guide a customer through a transaction.

Then there’s AI, which is still a very emerging technology, but one that everybody is looking into, prompted by the likes of Enfield’s Amelia solution. The major advantage of this is that the interaction with a customer doesn’t need to be linear – you can start a process and then, if the customer wants to ask an unrelated question, the AI can handle it and answer that question, and then return to the process or kick off a second process.

There is a warning here though – watch out for using new tech for tech’s sake – where people are looking at AI to ‘innovate’ and automate, the problems have often already been solved with existing solutions available on the market.


Trend #4 – Creative use of data

People have been talking about data for a long time, but I believe this year will see the real breakthrough in terms of councils truly utilising the power of data, joining up internal and external data to tackle the acute financial pressures they are facing. Good examples of how this can be done include:

  1. Fraud– joining up internal and external data sets to, for example, look for multiple adults living in a house that has an SPD
  2. Preventative – using multiple data sources to forecast the next ‘baby P’ and to enable early intervention methods
  3. GDPR – use of decent data tools to find and cleanse data, deal with subject access requests.
  4. Reducing service pressures –using data in new ways to address budgetary pressures, in the likes of social care, where it can be used to make finding carers, volunteers and PAs is very hard. You can use external data sources to find populations which have high propensity for example to volunteer and directly approach them to find a new cohort of volunteers.

All of these will drive the need for better master data management/single customer index solutions, and we expect to see a lot more activity in this space, including new entrants to the market.


Trend #5 – Internet of Things (IoT)

The use of IoT is all set to take off over the coming months. Traditionally the technology has been used in highways, traffic flows and parking, but we’re seeing an acceleration of its use in health and social care as part of assisted living solutions. It’s easy to see why – it’s a simple business case because for a relatively low cost you can keep citizens out of residential care. Health and social care is a massive issue for councils – if you can use IoT technology combined with data to understand how people are living at home then you can keep people living at home for longer.

IoT can also be used to enhance efficiency and service delivery. Repairs is a good example – citizens can see how far away the repair person is from their job, which helps to reduce missed appointments and calls into the contact centre. IoT devices can also be used to automatically raise servicing requests or repair jobs based on the status of the device (e.g. a boiler) to proactively manage estates.


Trend #6 – Digital marketing

While use is very limited at the moment, this is an area we are seeing more activity in, not least because there are good returns to be had. Examples of how I predict councils will use digital marketing as we move through 2018 are:

  1. Cost avoidance– a topical example here is Foster Carers, which is highlighted in virtually every MTFS I have looked at as an increasing cost pressure. The council is competing with the private sector to find Foster Carers, the council will typically pay double for a private sector sourced Foster Carer over one they source themselves. The private sector however is geared up to maximise the finding of potential foster carers. I’ve probably looked at 30 to 40 councils and they always sit seventh or eighth in Google search rankings, because the private sector knows how to use SEO, are investing in paid ads, and how to attract people with the right words in their website text which is used by Google.
  2. Behavioural change– councils will start being better at using data to understand where cost savings can be made and marketing needs to be delivered. A good example is areas that aren’t recycling enough and following up with focused digital marketing campaigns to increase recycling levels and therefore cut costs from the likes of Landfill Tax.
  3. Revenue generation– similar to the cost avoidance example, anywhere where you are competing with the private sector for business like trade waste, bulky waste, pest control etc. can and should benefit from digital marketing.

The biggest constraint here will be GDPR as this will curtail the volume of existing customer data that can be used for marketing purposes. Individuals have the right to object to direct marketing (including profiling), so authorities will need to ensure they have the appropriate consent.


Trend #7 – Drones

My final trend for 2018 is the use of drones. Again, this is in its very early stages, but a number of authorities are looking at using drones for various purposes, including reviewing properties to avoid the cost of putting up scaffolding and to spot fly-tipping.


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