Regulatory Services in the age of Digital Transformation
Local authorities are under increasing pressure to deliver services that show “value for money” to their council tax payers. This is never more so than in the world of regulatory services where budget restrictions and efficiency savings have had significant impacts on staffing levels and the ability of local authorities to meet their statutory requirements, never mind the range of services expected of them by their citizens. So just how can technologies such as the cloud and the web coupled with data sharing and digital transformation programmes really have an impact on regulatory services?
We talk to Steve Huckett, newly appointed Director of Client Development at Tascomi, for his view on a wide range of subjects relating to the challenges facing local authorities. Steve was previously Head of Client Solutions in Civica’s Community Protection division and joined Tascomi in December 2017. Now part of the senior management team at Tascomi, he brings a wealth of commercial, sales and solutions experience to the rapidly growing Tascomi business.
What do you see are the biggest challenges facing regulatory services?
Aside from the obvious impacts of budget cuts and a continued drive to make more and more efficiency savings, increasingly there will be a demand from the citizen for better interaction with their local council. The public increasingly expect to conduct much of their business online, be it banking, grocery and gift shopping or the delivery of entertainment streamed to a multiplicity of devices, doing so on demand and with relative ease. Naturally they also want to deal with their council in a similar fashion be that ordering services, reviewing a food hygiene rating, reporting potholes, checking their council tax, etc.
This creates a challenge to the way a council behaves, organises itself and delivers services. Assessments will need to be made on which services to continue to deliver, but more importantly how to deliver them more efficiently through using appropriate technology. The skill base of the workforce will become ever more important with a need for a wider diversification of skills to meet more than one type of job.
But perhaps one of the biggest challenges is that “Digital Transformation” programmes with differing remits and outcomes, now need to deliver on the promised efficiencies and prove that the technology investment made in them really makes a difference to the traditional way of delivering services.
Is Digital Transformation the way forward?
In a word “Yes”, but with so many differing expectations and objectives it is impossible to say that any one programme provides a model for the best way forward. The challenge with “Digital Transformation” is not the selection of a digital solution, nor is it reticence on the part of an authority’s citizens, officers and partners to become more digital; they expect their council to act in a more digitally engaged way. Instead it is recognition of the opportunities to rationalise and make more efficient the long-standing working practices and to accept that there has to be change across the whole spectrum of the organisation and services being delivered; it isn’t just about the technology! Many organisations fail to fully realise this opportunity for want of a mindset and culture to accept change and that becomes a problem when trying to achieve the benefits of full digital transformation.
How important will the role of software be in meeting these challenges?
The expectations and challenges placed on services, demand a more agile and mobile capability than the traditional vertically tiered business systems can offer. Expect to see legacy solutions being replaced with more modern, progressive, cloud and web-based solutions that enable the local authority to meet the challenges and that support council staff in working in a more dynamic, flexible and responsive way that simply cannot be achieved with existing solutions.
Collaboration and partnership with solution providers will be vital to the success of any new solution. Those solution partners need to be sufficiently current, agile and available to meet the needs of the local authority and its officers and not be stuck in a conundrum of legacy application support, tired development methodologies and limited resources.
Digital software solutions will have their part to play, whether that be part of a digital transformation programme or through a separate procurement or planned upgrade exercise. However, it will become increasingly important for suppliers to facilitate business process change services, as much as they are able to deliver modern digital software solutions, to ensure the challenges and opportunities presented can be fully addressed.
How significant will the growth/use of the Cloud be to regulatory services?
Embracing the cloud will be vital to the success of regulatory service operations. The advantages and security of cloud-based solutions are now well established and recognised. Officers have improved access to line of business applications and support services anytime and anywhere; shared services are more easily provided; mobile working is implicit and cloud solutions are more efficient and cheaper to maintain. The outcome is that councils will increasingly conduct their core activities via the cloud, be that with their citizens, partners or central government.
Solution providers must be cloud aware with the tools and capabilities to utilise the advantages of cloud-based solutions and be agile enough to meet the pace of change. This will enable local authorities to work in partnership with such providers to drive efficiencies within the local regulatory service team, empowering officers and field operatives alike to respond to and complete work in the field, via the cloud, eliminating the need for inefficient work constrained by the older traditional back office system.
Is the need to make savings stifling innovation?
It is true that many initial savings have been made through staff reduction and this has had a detrimental effect due to the loss of experience. However, this also presents an opportunity to re-visit established processes and challenge the status quo. Innovation presents an opportunity to think again about what the operational objectives are and should be encouraged at all levels to effect process improvements and demand more capable software solutions.
Where it becomes problematic is where innovation isn’t tied to effective savings, efficiency gains and clear objectives. Without the supporting case, innovation is in danger of being avoided with the risk being that the opportunity to modernise regulatory service delivery becomes more of the same, albeit from a different supplier. Organisations should look to suppliers of innovative solutions that help them to think outside of the box of the traditional back office system to deliver effective transformational change through innovation.
Much is talked about data sharing, but how important is it really in a regulatory services context?
The importance of existing data, accumulated over many years and its ability to help drive the business needs of tomorrow is a largely unrecognised highly valued asset. But it is more than that, the data held in systems and its historical context can make decision making today more intuitive and better informed. The data must work harder!
Solutions that support predictive data analysis to help drive decision making and expedite many service delivery activities will become increasingly vital to a successful regulatory services function. Data should work for and in harmony with the professional officer to ensure more informed and more efficient processing of requests for service, inspections and enforcement activities.
Shared data will become an increasingly important consideration to enable more efficient operations not just based on historical data patterns, but to assist areas like enforcement and licensing activities that would benefit from shared knowledge and intelligence. This will be increasingly valuable with more shared service arrangements and will require organisations to agree compliant approaches to data sharing to release the full power of the data’s capability to inform.
What does the future hold in a digital age for regulatory services?
Collaboration will become a watchword in the next 12 to 18 months as organisations seek ways to work more closely together to deliver shared services and other initiatives. It is vital therefore that the technology used is supportive and does not hinder or inhibit opportunities to innovate, expand and deliver digital collaboration and enhanced service provision. Solution providers need to be at the top of their game to ensure the solutions they bring to the sector can meet these objectives in a timely and efficient manner.
GDPR, Cyber Security and other similar issues will remain at the forefront of local authority thinking and it is vital that solution providers are mindful of these concerns and are able to react and support the local authority and their staff, instilling confidence in the solutions they provide to deal with these emerging and ever-changing threats.
Digital transformation will continue to be a major factor in all its various guises. It should not be thought of as some panacea to being more efficient and for making medium to long term cost savings. It will take careful planning, adequate funding and an appreciation that the right building blocks are in place before the transformation journey starts, if it is to deliver success. “Transformation” by its very definition is a continuous process and organisations must recognise the need to keep the momentum going once the transformation is under way. Whilst there should be goals and clear outcomes to mark progress, momentum and a change in thinking to continually improve across the whole organisation, will become the greatest imperatives to drive successful digital transformation and ultimately meet the ever changing and dynamic needs of the modern regulatory services function.
This is a variation of an article first published in the April 2018 Edition of Environmental Health News: http://www.ehn-online.com