Tomorrow’s technology today

By Paul Deegan | 31 October 2018

If you were to design your local authority from scratch, where would you start? Paul Deegan, Local Public Services Lead Partner at PwC, explores the potential of ‘expansive intelligence’

With a decade of austerity behind you, and further financial challenges still ahead, you may feel that you have become accustomed to living on the edge. The past, though, is no longer a reasonable guide to the future. New waves of emerging technology will usher in an era of transformation more disruptive than anything local government has experienced so far.

Our Local State We’re In surveys have tracked the evolution of digital technology in local government. While technology was once seen simply as a way to save costs, today the sentiment is it’s much more than that. Nine in ten respondents expect digital will enable them to engage communities in new ways and 80% expect digital to enable improvements to service delivery.

Leading councils across the country are already embracing new digital approaches and are starting to see the impact of exciting technologies, from AI to Big Data analytics. We’ve worked with councils to deliver important cost, time and safety improvements on fire reconnaissance and emergency response through a centrally-controlled drones unit, and have helped improve productivity and free up staff to focus on more complex tasks through robotic process automation.

However, our survey also found that only three in 10 respondents felt their council is confidently embracing new technologies and less than half are using data analysis to inform decision-making and strategy. Clearly, councils are only just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of what new technologies can offer.

The real impact of disruptive technology comes when you bring it all together and create a new sense of ‘expansive intelligence’ – where you translate your experience and insight into a better and greater understanding about the behaviours of people, both your staff and the public, and, as a result, the possibilities of the future.

The question then is, where to start? We have been running a number of disruption workshops with councils to help them both rethink the art of the possible but also begin to prioritise areas to take forward.

Rather than starting with existing services or functions, we ask council leadership teams to take a step back, think about the everyday problems they face and the outcomes they want to achieve, and then ask themselves, if you were to design your local authority from scratch today, what would it look like?

The priorities that come out of the workshops range from the specific, be that switching to 100% renewable energy sources or finding new ways to provide affordable housing, to bigger picture ambitions around creating a ‘council of tomorrow’ that unlocks the potential of the community.

Emerging technology provides both the opportunity and the necessity for councils to rethink how they deliver on their purpose. If councils can grasp the opportunity expansive intelligence offers, they can reshape the way they engage with the public, better serve their communities and lay the foundations for a better future. It’s time to ask yourself, when is the last time you and your leadership team truly challenged what you do and how you do it?

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