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Digital technology: change the culture not just the products

nvestment in digital technology is undoubtedly key to the future of local public services – from providing public information to protecting vulnerable people. But it is about more than investment in products and services.

Within the current financial climate, digital technology is often held up as a means of providing cost effective solutions to a wealth of problems dealt with by local public services. Through digital technologies councils hope to integrate multidisciplinary teams, reduce customer contact, encourage self service and internally enable mobile and flexible working.

We also look to digital products and services to improve the transparency and accountability of our decisions and to enable effective communication with and between citizens. We are also pushing our staff, officers and elected representatives to integrate digital into their own lives so we can connect on a more personal level.

I am a huge advocate of the transformative potential of digital. But this means nothing without a shift in how we think, how we see ourselves as organisations and employers and how we provide local services.

Here in Devon, we recognise that digital is an important opportunity, necessary to secure future savings – and we also recognise the need to do things differently and do different things. But this is not easy when we are wrapped in a complex web of legislation and statutory responsibilities; traditional risk-adverse approaches creep back in when uncertainty reigns supreme.

Embracing digital technology is much wider than simply products and services; it is about creating a climate where these products and services can thrive: a culture where local public services are open by default and digital by design.

Here in Devon digital products and services are key to the success of our estates strategy, through which we hope to reduce running costs by 29% and occupied floor area by 35% between 2012 and 2017. Targeted investment in digital systems is also key to the service redesigns that will follow our upcoming reviews of council services – which we hope will enable our citizens not self-help as well as self-serve.

This cannot be simply about the technology and its delivery. We need to make sure we are investing in the right products, but also developing the right culture.

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