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Australian Councils face unprecedented technology transitions in a bid to better serve communities

Australian Councils are in the midst of a significant technology transition, with COVID-19 demonstrating different benefits of digital transformation for local agencies.

The Accelerating to the New Normal report, commissioned by TechnologyOne and produced by IBRS, is the result of consultations with senior executives from local government authorities around Australia over the last 12 months.

According to the research, the need to reduce costs and increase efficiency is driving increasing use of SaaS within Australian local governments, but improving service delivery is still the number one factor in decision making for most councils.

The researchers found pressures on local government organisations have only increased in the last two years but improving services to the community remains the number one reason for investing in technology.

In fact, 93% of councils in the study listed improving service delivery as their number one technology outcome.

IBRS researcher Dr Joe Sweeney says, “Local government organisations need to not only rapidly make technology investments that enable their staff to work remotely. They also need to invest in ways to support their community as they face the challenges liaising with public services remotely.”

The research finds that while Australian councils are in the midst of a once in a generation technology transition, ICT execs need to do a better job of linking their organisations strategic drivers to the expected benefits of implementing or upgrading their enterprise solutions.

Community expectation of councils is increasing faster than budgets, with 78% of LG senior execs surveyed said they are required to do more with less.

Furthermore, 69% of respondents state that improving operational efficiency is a critical driver in decisions around ICT investment.

However, the research shows that significant financial and time savings can be made with automation and digital self-service channels. Digitising a complex transaction can save councils $90 - $350 per transaction while s simple transaction will save $20- $50 saving per transaction, according to the research.

In addition, services that take three days to deliver could be turned around in a few minutes with improved software, models, providing significant benefits to local communities.

Speaking on the research findings, Dr Sweeney says councils are needing to rethink their approach to IT infrastructure, with the results speaking for themselves. One such local government organisation is Shellharbour City Council from the Illawarra area south of Sydney.

According to Sweeney, for many years Shellharbour relied on multiple, best-of-breed point solutions. But a lack of integration between these systems had led to data silos, stretched internal resources and poorly informed decision-making.

The Council decided to adopt TechnologyOne's Ci Anywhere SaaS platform in 2019 to achieve a secure, connected system that drives agility and efficiency.

Shellharbour City Council manager of business information systems Adele Taylor says, "Shellharbour is still relatively young in our transition but we can see the service benefits appearing already.

"Real-time access to information means Council can better make informed decisions, deliver more efficient customer services, and reduce manual, paper-based processes."

Taylor added that giving staff anytime, anywhere access to information has meant the community benefits from more effective facilities management, improved scheduling of works, streamlined operations and enhanced service delivery.

A number of services were also digitised to allow community members to self-serve. Previously remote staff would fill out details on paper, and then re-enter the work order information when returning to the office.

Now they are able to enter outcomes in real-time, on site, and, if necessary, report a defect immediately. They may be hours away from the office, but it can be recorded immediately, says Taylor.

Taylor says, "Making self-service functions available to Council's ratepayers, business customers, and the broader community in addition to streamlined back-end processes has led to more efficient service delivery.

"Customers can lodge applications online, request services, pay for rates and receive various other notices, as well as access Council's public mapping and spatial data via TechnologyOne's IntraMaps solution.

While COVID-19 was in its nascent stages when TechnologyOne and IBRS began their study in late 2019, it quickly became a major challenge for councils for 2020.

Taylor says it is a significant advantage to be able to empower staff work from home on any device.

She says, "With SaaS, as long as you have an internet connection and a laptop, you can effectively work remotely. Our Human Resources & Payroll solution also provides staff with online and mobile access to timesheet and leave functions, which has reduced data entry associated with paper timesheets for our payroll staff."

According to TechnologyOne, whatever the driver for taking the leap, digital transformation continues to be good news for communities, council staff and their budgets, and the benefits are long term.