Digital Transformation in Local Government: New reports highlight the barriers to digital change

Local Government Digital Transformation

In Australia, local government agencies are estimated to have 120 – 150 various application forms; from registrations, to permits and requests. While there are a few councils that have started migrating legacy paper-based systems to online, for many, this simply meant the forms were available online, with the rate-payers still needing to download, print and post or submit in person. The digital transformation was never truly realised.

Challenges for Local Government in digital transformation

Local Government are facing the challenge of increased compliance and the goal of transforming to more efficient paperless processes and systems by 2020.

Last month, Civica and UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance announced the results of a survey of 200 professionals within IT teams, finance, Corporate and governance teams at local government councils, state departments and infrastructural organisations from Australia and New Zealand. The Report, titled The Changing Landscape for the Public Sector: The Challenges of Building Digital Bridges highlighted the drivers for digital change and the barriers to it:

They (local government) are driven by a need to “do more with less,” and by the political and regulatory climate in the country. An increased burden placed on governmental organisations and regulated markets has resulted in a greater appetite to deliver shared services with each other and suitable partner organisations.

Additionally, factors such as rapid technological changes, cost considerations and changes in citizen behaviour and demographics are changing the role of public sector organisations from being providers of sustainable infrastructure to being guardians of community resources and providing support to an aging population. It is also forcing them to adopt new ways of working.

Budgets and culture a major hindrance to digital transformation

The report found that 70 per cent of survey respondents claim that limited working budgets act as a major constraint to digital transformative change, while 65 per cent believe organisational culture is an impediment.

Speed of technological changes (37 per cent), difficulty in matching user expectations (32 per cent) and conservative leadership (25 per cent) were also listed as barriers.

According to Professor Roberta Ryan, Director, Institute for Public Policy and Governance and UTS Centre for Local Government, local governments in particular continue to struggle with limited funding, implementation and resourcing issues for digital projects.

Many local councils have to make a trade-off. Digital services are being pushed down the list of priorities in favour of more immediate requirements to build or maintain physical infrastructure that serves to keep communities moving. Meanwhile, the absence of leadership understanding in driving an outcome-based strategy is also hindering successful implementation of digital initiatives,” said Ryan.

The research also revealed that while 84 per cent of the respondents view digital transformation and change as an opportunity, 32 per cent (or 1 in 3) believe that their organisations only talk about emerging digital technologies. 

Benchmarking digital maturity of Local Government

Also released in November this year, the new ANZ Local Government Digital Maturity Index (DMI) surveyed over 100 local government authorities in Australia and New Zealand about the extent to which they are digitising their internal processes and the delivery of their services.

The Index shows that while many LGAs have made a start at digital transformation, very few have achieved a high degree of maturity.

One significant finding in the report is that 90 per cent of respondents agree that digital is the way of the future, but that only 20 per cent believe that their own LGA is doing enough to transition to a digital environment.1 

One question in the Digital Maturity Index survey asked respondents to describe the most significant impediments to successful digital transformation. Answers were not prompted, but supplied as free form text. The results were categorised, with the top four areas of challenge:

  • Cost of resourcing (mentioned by 22 per cent of respondents)
  • Resistance to change (19 per cent)Limited technical capability and infrastructure (17 per cent)
  • Lack of leadership or strategy (14 per cent).

These findings lined up with the findings of the Civica / UTS report.According to Graham Phillipson, Editor of Government News and author of the Local Government Digital Maturity report, every challenge represents an opportunity.

It is clear that strong leadership, more streamlined or automated processes, creative approaches to staff engagement, transitioning from legacy systems or maximising the returns from existing systems are all critical factors to the successful transition to a citizen-centric digital local government.

All levels of government are under pressure to deliver new and better services, with the same or reduced levels of funding and staffing. But digital transformation opens up the potential for significant efficiency gains and allows for resource reallocation to areas and tasks that add more value to the LGA,” concluded Phillipson.2


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