There’s a real challenge for those working in local government trying to make services consistently better for citizens. Many authorities need to grasp the opportunity tech gives us. As it stands, there’s too much reliance on monolithic products and the big suppliers doing very limited innovation. All these suppliers want to do is lock things away to tie our local government orgs in.
It’s time to shift away from this “one system to rule them all” mentality. And the way to do that is to start thinking of local government as a product, platform and a service.
A brief history digression
Local government, in years gone by, used filing cabinets full of records handwritten on pieces of paper. Then came the first phases of digital technology. All of a sudden, data became portable. Different systems could start talking to each other and we could see organisations come together to create new and exciting things.
Once a few big IT suppliers came in, built “bare-minimum” digital data silos, and everything interesting that had been starting to happen suddenly ground to a halt. These big players thought they could get away with little-to-no innovation, and the public sector would just keep using their products and services. And, unfortunately, they were very often right.
Developing reusable products to share
So what needs to happen? Firstly we need to work towards replacing these monolithic suppliers one sprint at a time. As a sector, we should begin making products a small slice at a time – this way we’re not trying to recreate a massive platform all at once.
One way of doing this is to start building an open set of products. Creating a large number of individual products, expertly formed and operating perfectly. Each has an individual story but they all work in the same way. They’ll also be released in the same way through a standard set of technology so everyone can access them. When we start doing that, we can begin combining them in really interesting ways.
A platform where products are designed to work together
Another way of moving from this traditional way of doing things is through a low-code platform. The idea behind low code is to make things easy, showing others how we don’t have to operate in the same ways any more.
Low code gives us the ability to have some really easy to implement APIs and connectors which work with third-party tools that developers already use. And so there’s less time lost due to learning curves and handover between teams and new people.
You can start building capability in your teams and services which allows you to own this yourself. If you can’t, there’s many suppliers who can work with these technologies to give you the exact product you need, rather than something somebody has decided to sell you. It takes away many of the time-consuming processes of deployment and operations.
A low-code platform will start moving you away from those big suppliers trying to do everything, but that’s only part of the journey. We need to get to a mindset of local government as a platform where the exact makeup of it can change, but the whole system still works successfully.
Local government as a service
If you go to a festival and the headline act doesn’t turn up, the day isn’t ruined as there’s still so much to see. This is how we should imagine local government. The exact makeup of it can change but the whole system still works successfully.
In local government you can have alternative options for each of the platforms and products out there. Each authority can put together the right mix and know that it all works the way they need to support their communities. Everything should fit together like Lego bricks. By doing this you’re also contributing to the future by creating a system and space where innovation is required.
This way of working allows you to look at how you can reinvest in those products and platforms much more affordably. You often can’t afford to replace universal housing or social care platforms by building from scratch and spending millions. But you can afford to replace part of it, and make savings to reinvest. Once again, this way you’ll never be caught by a big supplier with no new technology and now new value to deliver – ever
All the legacy providers we work with across local government can look at this as a real chance to be pushed and demonstrate why they’re better than the alternatives. There’s a chance to massively improve how they work with data, share things across different platforms and how they use open standards.
Creating success with communities
With this way of doing things comes an opportunity to build a community. What you need is a community of people whether they’re providing the tech, engaging with how it’s developed or whether they’re implementing it. Open communities bring interests together to build something which can be shared with anyone inside or outside of that organisation. Distributed groups of people passionate about improving public services can support the best of every organisation to contribute.
Ultimately the success of building a mindset that sees local government as a product, platform and service is community. Building open spaces that share learnings and lessons alongside successful tools and ways of working.
If you’d like to hear more about this idea, you can watch a talk I gave at the Digital Leaders event.