Local government IT: renew not replace

Richard Whomes discusses specific IT problems that local governments face, and how tackling these could improve services while also increasing operational efficiency
 
The Palace of Westminster is long overdue a major refurbishment. MPs have already agreed to the plan, but work is unlikely to begin before 2025, causing parliament to relocate for a minimum of six years. At the same time, the palace’s neighbour, Big Ben, is undergoing a renovation which will keep its famous bell silent until at least 2021. The message is clear: things can move slowly in the public sector due to older infrastructure and red tape.  
 
The same could be said of public sector IT systems according to a recent report from Eduserv and Socitm, Local Government Cloud Adoption 2018. The report reveals that although there is cloud-first intent across local authorities and a hunger to use new applications and infrastructure enabled by the cloud, adoption remains slow because of lock-in to current contracts and the demands of maintaining existing systems.     
 
Time for an upgrade
At a time when local authority budgets are under increasing pressure, upgrading to cloud-based IT systems is an effective way to improve services while increasing operational efficiency. The public is now accustomed to accessing online services across multiple devices. Customer-facing applications that allow residents to do everything online, from booking bulky waste removals to renewing parking permits, can help free up valuable resources.
 
Local government could also benefit from the ability to aggregate data for analysis. Because local council IT systems have evolved organically over time, data is often held in separate repositories. This infrastructure, coupled with complex internal bureaucracy, can make it difficult to share information between departments within one council, or with other related authorities. The ability to link data from different functions and make it available to cloud-based applications would allow local government to identify trends and produce valuable community insights.    
 
Keeping the old, adding the new
The benefits of cloud-based systems include efficiency, productivity, modernisation, and agility but that doesn’t mean local councils need to undertake a complete rip and replace of their current IT infrastructure. Existing systems, such as mainframes or midrange systems, can be extremely powerful and finely tuned to the way councils operate. They also provide a secure place to store data, so local authorities should not let investment in these systems go to waste. Instead they can unlock the value of these systems using application programming interfaces (APIs) which are quick to implement and can connect older computers to web or cloud-based services.     
 
By integrating modern applications with their existing systems, local authorities can enable their residents to access real-time information and perform routine tasks or transactions through mobile or browser-based user interfaces. This provides customers with the quick and easy interactions they have come to expect.
 
In addition to web-based interfaces for resident use, API tools can also streamline operations at local authority offices. Front desk employees can access a single user interface that spans the multiple disparate systems of different departments, using it to answer a wide spectrum of resident queries, both in person and over the phone. This reduces the need to train staff on different systems and allows requests to be dealt with quickly and efficiently, minimising waiting times and delivering a higher quality of service.
 
Finally, councils can implement data virtualisation, a virtual replication of stored data, which allows information to be shared across multiple systems for real-time analysis while remaining securely within its repository. By merging data from disparate siloes into one centralised source, local government can benefit from an unprecedented level of insight that can be used to improve services. For instance, aggregating data on crime, anti-social behaviour, and truancy can help local authorities provide far more effective child-support services.  
 
By using the API economy, local authorities can modernise IT infrastructure without the excessive cost and disruption of replacing their legacy systems. They can increase efficiency, streamline operations, and aggregate data to deliver valuable insights, all in a matter of weeks.  While Westminster may have to wait years for Parliament’s refurbishments, local government need not wait to bring its IT infrastructure into the modern age.Richard Whomes is director sales engineering at Rocket Software.

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