Virtual Public Service: The Local Government Transformation

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Paving the way for cloud-based councils

While many public sector organisations rally to overcome the complexity and financial strain imposed by the global pandemic, local councils have been no exception. Now more than ever, local authorities are working to find ways to overcome budget restraints amid continued operational restrictions and, ultimately, to do a lot more with less.

Already struggling with budget cuts before the virus hit, many local authorities turned to cloud communications to help mitigate the costs of conducting in-person meetings. Faced with lockdown, those in-person meetings moved to video and phone calls to minimise the risks of exposure. While some organisations took to technology to help them with continuity in difficult times, many were let down or found flaws in the security measures of free solutions.

Now as communities across the UK ease into a “new normal” way of life, local authorities face an uphill battle to keep their communities engaged and their constituents safe. Local authorities across the country are coming to realise that future-proofing council services and processes is imperative and ensuring this level of continuity moving forward means fully adopting new cloud-based and unified technologies. 

Read The modern council: cloud benefits for UK local governments

Adaption and adoption

Where councils sought “sticking plaster” solutions in the early days of the pandemic, this led to challenges arising from using a patchwork of different platforms and a tech overload for council staff.

While budget restrictions were rife, many councils have come to terms with the benefits of more unified services that encompass multiple communications means including video technology, which has proven to enable both councillors and the constituents they serve.

One council that recognised the benefits of video conferencing early in the pandemic was North East Derbyshire District Council, setting up the infrastructure for video conferencing to replace face-to-face meetings. With the technology in place, the council was able to also live stream its Annual Council Meeting, which was conducted via video, so that the public could also tune in. Commenting on the success of the new video-first meetings, Councillor Martin Thacker, MBE, said:

“Holding a virtual Full Council meeting online is a historic moment and enables us all to be together to make decisions and constantly keep on top of the fast-evolving situation of this pandemic.”

“These new ways of working during the pandemic have enabled staff to keep in regular contact and work on incredible initiatives, successfully, such as the Community Support Team who have helped over 4,000 residents since it was set up.”

Making a smarter cloud communications investment also means supporting your councillors in the day-to-day adoption of a new tech solution; ideally, one selected for its longer-term merits and designed for flexibility as teams grow.

Read Unified communications in the public sector of the future

Basingstoke council cited an awareness that different age demographics approached the adoption of technology differently. The council offered extra support for councillors with lower confidence levels towards adopting new communications technology.

Birmingham City Council also recognised the importance of testing and training their members on new cloud-based solutions, offering members “drop-in” sessions to help them test their connectivity and practice using different functions and new voting forms.

Forward-thinking councils have also begun to use video technology for more than just internal use. Handling high volumes of public-facing communications, councils are increasingly adopting video technologies for their demanding contact centre needs. With 30% of customers claiming that not reaching a real person is the most frustrating thing about poor customer service, councils are opening up to the possibilities of using video conferencing in their contact centres.

Durham County Council piloted a video contact centre initiative, Durham Talk, which offers face-to-face support to customers. The video link solution has significantly improved the efficiency of the council, not only in delivering a more personable and accessible service but also in reducing strain on customer service agents. Video technology means that contact centre agents can work from one centralised location and don’t have to travel to and from meetings. Video link technology also means they don’t have to wait for the next drop-in customer and can eliminate wait times between meetings. 

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Why 2021 will see a majority vote in favour of video technology

Mass adoption of software as a service (SaaS) technology has already begun to take place across the UK, with many organisations who previously boasted legacy technologies now having to move to the cloud and enable remote working. For many, this required a “quick fix,” often procuring the cheapest and quickest solution to deploy.

But councils should be thinking carefully about how to truly achieve more with less by adopting a consolidated service incorporating multiple tools and channels. A reliable, unified platform improves rates of internal adoption and supports long-term continuity in the face of a threatening second wave of the virus.

Resilience and security should also be key considerations. While freemium products appeal in terms of keeping costs low, the adage that “you get what you pay for” is all too true when it comes to security and service. It’s wiser to make investment decisions based on total cost of ownership.

Read RingCentral for local government and UK cities

By adopting unified communications as a service (UCaaS), local authorities can enjoy savings through reducing the number of platforms used for communications and by streamlining processes with a more robust and fully secure cloud system that can scale up or down in tandem with organisational growth.

Video technology supports councils in several ways, helping to reduce costs of internal meetings and make staff more productive but also making council proceedings much more accessible to their constituents. Video streaming important meetings and providing face-to-face support can truly drive community engagement, and empowering staff with the right technology encourages employee engagement, meaning councils support and reassure stakeholders in times of tumultuous change.

Now find out how the rise of video meetings is revolutionising public service delivery in the UK.

Originally published Feb 09, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023

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