Many councils are looking at making system changes at the moment. When most councils only update their solutions, on average, every 20 years, any new investment targeting the next two decades will be understandably scrutinised by the public.
This raises an interesting question – should the community help choose the IT systems councils use?
A new system should produce accurate rates and timely financial results, record any issues raised by the community accurately, and have the ability to optimise a large asset base. It must also interact with the community as part of the system’s core operations. User interactions should not be an add-on, an afterthought, or something to be done later – they are the very reason we have these systems in the first place. The capability to have a community digitally-enabled must be front and centre in the decision-making process.
I've had a look through the websites of 53 councils across Australia and New Zealand, and it's clear that most didn’t put the user at the heart of the process. Some councils could process payments and receive complaints, even if via a downloadable PDF form. But, not many offered these options digitally like you would expect a bank, insurance company or retail website would.
I am sure if councils asked their community what factors should be central to any IT strategy, the answer would be to ensure they could digitally submit or enquire about submissions, applications, consents, payments, registrations, and all the other things we do with councils.
A community should be able to contact council staff seamlessly and access services quickly and accurately. And councils need content to be accessible and transparent so it can communicate the work it does and how it can help the local area and people.
If a council wants to ensure its new system is relevant to the community, it needs to ensure it caters to them.
Of course, councils must also have functionality catering for rating, assets, financials, CRM (customer relationship management), regulatory, document management, and GIS (a system which is able to capture, store, and analyse location-specific data). Not all these components need to come from the same provider. A good cloud solution (a native cloud, not hosted) will allow inter-operability.
These components, though, are just the entry point. A great solution should also be accessible to the public, so they may interact with the council in a way they want to. They will then be able to see how much money a council spends on IT solutions and assess whether it is relevant and justified.
I have read the budget documents for many councils and it is clear many councils in Australia and New Zealand are looking to spend a lot of money on replacing or updating systems. This year, it looks like more than a third of all councils are putting aside significant budgetary allocation on these system enhancements. I really hope they all have the public in mind when looking at the strategy behind these decisions, and they include personas from the public. Councils need to consider the public as users of any relevant system.
Only with the community’s input can a council create and pick the best solution for the next 20 years.