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No one doubts the public sector needs to change. Growing demands, shrinking resources and changing expectations have increased the challenge of providing public services that can be complex and will often need to be joined up with other services

Whilst public service organisations recognise the importance of technology in releasing new efficiencies by modernising internal processes and external delivery channels, many are still struggling to turn that potential into real outcomes.  To give just one example, Socitm’s annual survey of local authority web sites shows that there is still much to do before "digital first" becomes the norm.

There are a number of reasons why IT-enabled change can be harder to deliver in the public sector than in parts of private sector.  First and foremost is the fear of failure around large scale IT projects. Examination of these failures shows that the problems almost always lie in the way these projects have been led – by IT managers and managers in the services looking to deploy new technologies - and not in the technology itself. Nevertheless, this has engendered a view of technology projects in the public sector which is not helpful.

Other challenges include scale and complexity.  The interdependencies between different public services are often subtle and require a degree of sophistication in, say, security and sharing of the infrastructure that is not often present in the private sector.

To help encourage the shift to modern local public services, and to demonstrate the innovation and forward thinking that is already happening around the country, the Local CIO Council, working with Socitm, has commissioned a vision of how things could be different. The resulting strategy for ICT-enabled local public services reform, which we have called  Planting the Flag, is aimed at Chief Executives, Politicians and Service Heads as much as it is IT professionals.

Planting the Flag envisages strong, open and enabling local government and supports the role of open data, commitment to digital delivery and the ceeding of power, information, and knowledge to local communities.  It identifies some of the key links that must be made, for example between health programmes and local social services, and between geographically adjacent public service organisations such as the ‘blue light' services and local councils.  

Planting the Flag is being followed by Planning the Route. This will involve working with partners at regional and sub-regional levels to turn the vision into practical reality supported by detailed plans for local adoption.

When complete, Planning the Route will provide a prescription for managing change enabled by IT in local public services, with best practice examples, guidance and action plans.  Yet it will not be prescriptive - at the heart of the strengths of local public delivery is the diversity and the choice at a local level to reflect demographics, political priorities, geography and the nature of public services already in existence.  Indeed, it is the implementation of national blue prints from a centralist position that, typically because of the complexity and risk, have failed in the past.

Our strategy will succeed if the mantle is taken up by local public service organisations who want to see more efficient, more effective and more adaptable public services which meet public needs, but are also sustainable.

No doubt some public service organisations will chose to plough their own furrow and pursue more traditional ways of delivering services.  However, we believe that those that embrace change in the ways envisaged in Planting the Flag will outpace the rest, and that the difference will be increasingly visible to the public who, after all, foot the bill.  


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Written by Jos Creese   
Thursday, 21 July 2011 13:27
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 July 2011 13:30


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