Local governments have a complex audience of residents, businesses, commuters and employees – all expecting simple, yet fast access to their local council’s online services. This citizen audience demands access to integrated actionable services any time of day, via mobile devices, when Australians are on the go, Sam Hunt writes.
As online user expectations grow, chatbox and virtual assistant channels are becoming the norm, and local councils are faced with the challenge of modernising their online services to deliver an improved citizen experience.
However, many are being asked to deliver more – more innovation, more digital transformation, integrating an increasing number of digital projects – with fewer resources, limited budgets, and with large legacy systems.
GitHub recently co-hosted a discussion with Australian local council leaders. The conversation brought to light many interesting initiatives being implemented throughout Australia. It also pointed out a number of challenges local government institutions are faced with when trying to build digital strategies and platforms to deliver on citizens’ digital expectations.
Citizen experience within Georges River Council
There’s a greater appetite from citizens for more transparency of information, and a higher expectation that data and information be integrated across all online local council services.
This is exactly what the Georges River Council is seeing today. According to Fresia Segovia, CIO for the local council, Georges River’s citizens demand immediacy and expect to pay their bills, request local services, receive or apply for certificates online in simple fast transactions.
While this might have been a ‘nice to have’ a few years ago, this is now a key requirement.
Segovia is seeing first hand that today’s digital generation expects to engage and receive local government services on their mobile phones, usually on their commute to work. This is why she believes local councils need to change the way they engage with their communities, to improve citizen experience.
Ipswich City Council modernises to meet citizen expectations
Another key challenge for local government agencies is to create a culture of transparency and a framework that allows easy sharing of information, both with citizens and amongst local councils.
Matthew Shultz, City Digital Officer for the Ipswich City Council is seeing a greater appetite for transparency of information flow within its local communities, with Ipswich’s citizens wanting to have a say in city life and expecting budget documents and project proposals to be accessible online. The experience they are seeking is a clean user experience with immediate, simplified access to services. Local residents and businesses want access to information from both their local council and also state government services and utilities.
The Ipswich Local Council is moving toward a full service city offering – a City-as-a-Service platform. Historically these may have been different, siloed data sources, but citizens are not interested in who owns what particular piece of infrastructure, they just want to see an integrated service and want a seamless experience.
This is why Shultz is focusing on providing access to data and information in a centralised manner, as its team often don’t own all of the services.
Overcoming tech challenges to better shape citizens’ digital journeys
Many local government agencies struggle to integrate disparate systems to efficiently present data coming from multiple data sources and IT systems to their citizens.
Matthew Shultz agrees that the biggest challenge is to modernise access to services from legacy systems such as old ERP, local government property rating and financial systems.
Most local governments don’t have the luxury of stripping out such systems and starting again. But according to Shultz, local councils should instead need to think differently, and look at bi-modal operations models where traditional areas of IT can sit alongside other teams who are more focused on innovation and experimentation.
In order to move forward and modernise legacy systems, local councils need to work with the right partners, to help manage their roadmap and move core applications into the cloud.
The Georges River Council, which is a newly formed council, is a great example of a council which decided to start many of its systems from scratch, thus avoiding silos and meeting all compliance and integration needs.
In addition to taking the right technology approach, local councils need to take a more collaborative approach to innovation. As pointed out by Schultz, the need for local councils to buddy up and work together is important, as all local councils could benefit from collaborating and sharing their own lessons learned.
Setting up the right collaboration forum to help learn from each other, as well as using tools and external communities to foster shared learning and experiences is paramount to building local councils’ online citizen experience strategies. Tapping into the open source community can provide a fantastic platform where local councils can share learnings and ship innovation faster. It is also a valuable source of niche tech skills, and can ultimately help councils gain speed to market despite Australia’s tech talent shortage.
This is the seconod of a two-part series on improving the citizen experience in local government. You can read the first article here.
Sam Hunt is VP APAC, GitHub
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