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By Susan Law
There is always that dichotomous cliché: change is the only constant in the world. As local authorities, Councils are not only part of the world, but, in the key role in providing civic leadership to our communities, Councils find themselves having to flex and adapt themselves to meet the expectations of their communities and to help them make sense of the changing world.
The drivers to change are many. Some are extrinsic to the Council; others are initiated by the organisation itself.
The Graph of Doom – a graph prepared by the Council the London Borough of Barnet. The chilling lesson from this graph is that by 2021/22, the Council will need to spend all of its funding and revenue on just providing services for its vulnerable adults and children. Without changes to the manner in which services would be delivered and policy settings, there would be no funding for other services such as waste, community development etc.
While Councils in Australia are not charged with the provision of social services for adults and children, the demographic trends for Australia are similar if not sharper. This impacts upon state governments and reinforces the drive in NSW, South Australia, and Tasmania for local government sector reform. The ability of state governments to significantly contribute to the funding of local government for services is becoming increasingly constrained. In fact, local government is experiencing the reverse: services being devolved from state to local government without the corresponding level of funding to deliver them.
Similarly, Councils’ rate bases and their ability to raise revenue from ratepayers is coming under increasing pressure. In NSW, rate capping by the State Government is in place and is being debated in South Australia and Tasmania.
Customer and community expectations
At the other end of the demographic spectrum are the expectations of our communities and customers. Most services and the way they are delivered were designed for the post WWII and baby boomer generation – now we have Generation X, Y, and Z, whose expectations are quite different from those of their parents and grandparents. Traditional sectors such as the taxi and hotel industries are having to cope with surviving with disruptive technologies and organisations such as Uber and Airbnb. Nevertheless, these disrupters are setting the expectations for access, service, and response. The disruption in many service sectors is causing major re-thinking of service delivery models, even traditionally conservative ones such as banks. Local government cannot step aside from the change.
State Government and internal programs of reform
In addition to the UK, in NSW and South Australia, pressure has been placed upon local authorities to not just consider change on an individual basis, but also to participate in a broader program of sector reform.
ICT: everyone in a contemporary organisation relies on it, everyone wants it to solve their problems, and not a whole lot of people understand it in technical detail. ICT business units are traditionally overburdened and often struggle to focus on strategic issues in the midst of reactive work. How on earth are local government ICT staff meant to be responsible for the huge burden of integrating distinct business systems for an amalgamation or shared services arrangement? Here are our principles for doing it once and doing it right.
A diligent, structured, and strategic approach to ICT will be crucial to the success of newly amalgamated Councils as it is integral to everything from customer relationship management to information management.
The local government ICT environment is growing ever more complicated, with increasing technical complexity, commodification of ICT infrastructure, and communications and information centricity. The ICT needs for a successful amalgamation are also substantial, including everything from the big picture (eg integrating different infrastructure) to the fine detail (eg cleansing, formatting, and transferring data). The amalgamation, then, is both a huge challenge and an opportunity to start off right. Investment in previous systems should not be considered a waste: rather, this is an opportunity to harvest the ICT best practice for the future.
Here are six main ICT areas to consider while amalgamating:
Will porous boundaries change the ways in which Governments provide services?
The world is only becoming more and more globalised. The mass movement of people, ideas, and products across the world is causing the world’s leaders to second guess foundations that have been left by their forebears. The world’s largest organisations and startup companies are finding ways to avoid government legislation, whether at home or as they expand into new territories. Questions regarding citizenship and refugee status are circulating the globe. The definition of boundaries is being tested more than ever before.
Locally, we are not exempt. In New South Wales in particular, local governments are contemplating amalgamations.