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The joy of tidying up: Decluttering local authority IT

Many of us may see the coming of a new year as an opportunity to take stock of our possessions, perhaps inspired by books or television series featuring pro-celeb tidiers and organisation consultants. Ejecting unwanted items from the dark corners of garages and wardrobes provides a sense of satisfaction, frees up some space, and keeps the local charity shops well stocked.

For recently-formed unitary authorities, or areas where districts are merging, unwanted possessions of a different kind may be lurking within the server room. The coming together of disparate application portfolios typically results in multiple line of business and back office systems, not to mention the differing business processes within the teams which rely on them.

This presents an opportunity to reduce the clutter, along with the operational complexity, risk and cost which it represents. The starting point is of course to pull everything out of the cupboard and take a good look at what we find. This may also require us to look in some unexpected places for the ‘shadow IT’ which can often be found within individual departments.

Having understood the current state, it’s time to decide what to keep. The first step is to look for areas of duplication; three different HR or adult social care systems for example. Along with these obvious areas, some councils are also looking to consolidate line of business functions onto generic platforms spanning multiple functions. This isn’t the right answer in all cases, but can be a way to rationalise applications while helping to work towards a more holistic view of the citizen across council service lines.

Taking stock of our things is also an opportunity to consider what ‘sparks joy’ - in other words, what are the outcomes the council really wants to achieve for its citizens and local businesses, aligned to the corporate plan and digital strategy? Now is the time to consider how technology can best enable these, and build a roadmap to transition to the future state. In doing so, the exercise becomes far more than a routine spring clean – it establishes a foundation for meaningful transformation. This can encompass aspects such as improving the citizen’s experience, enabling place-based service delivery, and making better use of data to inform council strategy.

Any discussion about changes to your IT landscape needs to take into account the business processes this supports. Clearly there needs to be convergence on unified processes where the individual councils’ processes differed previously. But this is also an opportunity to re-evaluate whether those processes are enabling the desired outcomes, and to look for scope for further operational efficiencies. These changes may require a phased approach, baselining an initial set of processes while setting out a roadmap for subsequent improvements.

A merger of organisations and change to working practices will inevitably cause uncertainty for council users - and in some cases service users too. Engagement with stakeholders should be planned as part of a dedicated business change programme running alongside technical and process change. This should clearly communicate what is changing, and the benefits that this is expected to bring.

Finally, both the role of the council and the capabilities of technology will continue to evolve. Consider the benefits of adopting a continuous application portfolio management approach to maintain close alignment between business outcomes and the underpinning technology, ensure value for money and mitigate technical risk.

While the above areas are especially pertinent to newly consolidated authorities, even well-established councils may have accumulated some baggage over time, and find that it’s time to review what they’re holding onto.

In summary, the merger of separate councils will result in some short term challenges, along with the opportunity to realise longer-term benefits. Efficiencies of scale can free up much-needed budget and resources which can be reallocated to support essential service delivery, or to invest in further transformation.

Contact me to discuss how CGI could support your council’s transformation journey, using our teams who live and work in your local communities.

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About this author

Carwyn Cook

Carwyn Cook

Director Consulting Expert, Local Government

Since joining CGI in 2000, Carwyn has worked with clients to understand their business challenges and provide innovative solutions. The majority of this time has been spent helping public sector organisations make better use of technology as an effective enabler of change. Prior to this, ...