Article

Beyond 2020:

What’s next for local government?

With tightening budgets compelling councils to adopt more efficient ways of working, and changing resident expectations redefining local services, change was in the air for local government well before we heard of the novel coronavirus. But if these trends were gaining traction as the 2010s drew to their close, the upheavals of 2020 have turbocharged them.

COVID-19 has disrupted the way we live, work and socialise. As community leaders in a time of great uncertainty, local governments are on the frontlines of this disruption. And, like many organisations, they’ve been forced to rethink not just their day-to-day operations, but their very business models.

The local government of the future

As the beating hearts of increasingly digital communities, the councils of tomorrow will be more than providers of local services – they will be the conduits through which residents, ratepayers, services and infrastructure connect.

In tomorrow’s councils, residents and ratepayers will be able to answer their own questions with the help of intuitive self-service portals. Councils will gather and respond to residents’ feedback in real time, using community voices to continuously improve their offerings. They will use social media to educate and inspire residents, streaming meetings in real time so communities can engage in the discussions affecting their lives.

In the future, councils will use traffic data from connected roads, parking meters, bike lanes and carparks to design the utilities their communities need. They will use drones to survey local assets, gathering data to inform proactive maintenance programs that ensure local infrastructure always performs at its peak.

Tomorrow’s councils will break down siloes to ensure that employees from maintenance to human resources work towards the same goals. They will enable employees to work in the way that suits them, at a time and place of their choosing. They will create a single source of truth into operational and financial processes to give ratepayers the transparency they demand.

Urban Futurist and former Lord Mayor of Adelaide
city2050

As an efficient, data-driven and responsive organisation that meets changing community needs in real time, tomorrow’s council won’t be stuck in traditions – it will be empowered by change.

Councils know that digitally enabled, hyper-connected local government is the future. But while many are well on their way to realising it, others worry it requires resources that they simply don’t have. In fact, 69 per cent of local government leaders in Australia and New Zealand cite budget constraints as the major barrier to digital transformation. But the key to transformation isn’t financial – it’s cultural.

To create the local government of the future, the first step is acknowledging we can’t meet tomorrow’s demands with yesterday’s mindsets.

A connected council for a connected tomorrow

With 91 per cent of Australians and 93 per cent of New Zealanders owning smartphones and millions of dollars being invested in digitally-enabled infrastructure such as smart parking meters and smart bike lanes, our communities have never been so connected. As a result, environmental management, health services, building, planning, social services, park management and transport are becoming more enmeshed in ways that the structure of many councils is yet to reflect.

Whether it was organising the rubbish collection or granting planning approvals, councils have historically used discrete directorates to facilitate these fairly straightforward tasks and given these directorates the hardware and software suited to their needs. The planning and environment team, for instance, would store their data in a land information system. The infrastructure team, on the other hand, would rely on an asset management system to stay on top of projects, maintenance and repairs.

As local government becomes more multifaceted and its tasks grow in complexity and breadth, these systems are multiplying at speed. Today, a single council might host dozens or even hundreds of discrete applications, with siloed data repositories and unintegrated operating systems slowing down activities across the organisation.

But the citizens of today don’t have the patience to repeat their details to representatives working off databases that don’t speak to each other. Employees don’t have time to navigate multiple systems to find an answer to a simple question. And in-house IT teams don’t have the resources to effectively manage an increasingly complex technological environment.

“When you’re dealing with lots of disparate systems – and staff using those systems in lots of disparate ways – you end up with duplication, redundancy and inefficiency. For better citizen service and more efficiency across the board, a holistic digital core is the only answer.”

Clare Sullivan, CEO, Local Government Professionals Australia

The only way is forward

To step up to the task, local governments need the agility to adopt new technologies as they arise, and the flexibility to keep up with ever-evolving community demands. They need the resilience to deliver consistent services in unprecedented times, and the efficiency to continuously improve in the face of fiscal pressures. They need the insight to understand what’s working and what’s not, and the adaptability to change course when the data demands it. And to realise these capabilities, they need the power of a strong digital core.

Publish date

19 Feb 2021

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