Socitm is the UK-based professional body for people involved in the leadership and management of IT and digitally enabled services delivered for public benefit.

Amongst various activities they regularly produce great informative literature on what a digital service should be, how it might work and what it ought to deliver.

In late 2014 Socitm published its “Digital: Vision to Value” briefing which laid down comprehensive ideals of digital services aimed at the public.

In the document were three core principles:

  • Innovation to empower citizens and communities
  • Service redesign to simplify, standardise and automate
  • Collaborate, share and reuse resources and assets – read below

How can you, as a public sector organisation, use digital services to meet these core principles? Based on our experience in digital plan making – delivering e-consultation and interactive digital mapping services for local authorities – let’s explore some ideas.

Collaborate, share and reuse resources and assets

“Local public service organisations must join up service delivery strategies”

The great thing about digital services is that they don’t follow political or geographical boundaries. In the private sector the growth of virtual working is booming. The Web Publishing Portal is a working partnership only made possible and successful thanks to digital technology. In the same way that we collaborate to provide services, so neighbouring local authorities can work together to deliver strategies.

Planning policy is one area of local government service that continues to shift away from traditional county-political boundaries. In England (and soon Wales), there has been a shift towards “localism” which fragments authority areas into districts and neighbourhoods from a planning policy perspective. Local Development Plans require cross-border collaboration, an approach that will be taken a step further in Wales in 2015 when its devolved planning function introduces a strategic, regional development planning framework. Clearly, collaborative working in planning policy makes sense for local public service organisations, irrespective of the potential cost savings.

“Jointly commission digital and related IT infrastructure and services”

More of our digital plan making customers are opting for a collaborative license for our e-consultation and interactive digital mapping services. As well as sharing the cost (which falls under EU tender thresholds anyway), they are committing to share service delivery and value benefits jointly. They can see that planning policy delivery can be effective using a shared platform and that web-based (cloud) digital technology is inherently flexible in terms of where and how it is deployed. While some of our clients are anticipating administrative rationalisation and even mergers, most simply recognise that it makes sense for authorities with shared boundaries to share planning policy software too. It also means that their internal IT technology stacks don’t have to match up because a shared web-based platform is “blind” to their individual IT set-up.

“Measure, capture and share benefits and savings”

Digital technology makes measurement easier. Statistics are typically compiled in real time and ordering a report is often just a click away. The cost savings that Socitm and the Local Government Association highlight in their various digital case studies tell the story. In the planning sphere we have found cost comparisons between digital and “the old ways” harder to come by (and this may account for the lack of planning cost-saving case studies out there). We know we saved Conwy County Council in North Wales £20,000 on map printing costs during their LDP process. We reckon the e-consultation system takes 40% off the time taken to handle policy representations, but the process varies so much it’s less easy to accept a single figure.

There’s potentially an even bigger benefit than side-by-side cost savings. Technology is great at capturing and replicating processes. Standards-based digital services are built this way: sustainable and repeatable. We have crafted a version of our web publishing software for a neighbourhood development plan project in Abergele, North Wales – believed to be the first of its kind in Wales. Having done it once, this model has the potential to be duplicated and rolled out for other neighbourhoods across Conwy County Council. The economy of scale, in terms of time and cost, is potentially vast. The use of analytics software coupled with a registration function within the system also means that stakeholders can both monitor and measure the return on their investment based on an analysis of what calls to action users have interacted with.

Do your digital services enable you to collaborate, share and reuse resources and assets”?

How far would you say the digital software services enable you to collaborate, share and reuse resources and assets? Do you think Socitm’s principles are important in digital plan making? Are there any missing? As a provider of digital software services to the public sector, we’d love your views and comments.