Real local government digital transformation’s happening at Wiltshire Council

Using a ‘systems thinking’ approach could also help local authorities identify priorities, reduce complexity and better serve citizens, says new Socitm briefing

Posted 26 April 2017 by

Public sector IT leadership group Socitm says it’s found a real example of that much-abused current slogan, ‘digital transformation’, at local government level.

More specifically, that’s what it believes is happening at Wiltshire Council, which is carrying out a big drive to designing services and systems “around customers rather than ourselves”.

That approach is underpinned by a ‘systems thinking’ approach, thinks the group’s Socitm’s Insight researchers that could also help other local authorities identify priorities, reduce complexity and better serve citizens.

Systems thinking could also offer a more radical approach to business transformation than the classic ‘plan-do-study-act’, the study contends, as it also “provides a way to understand and analyse a complex organisation and its many interconnected elements – both real and abstract – and how they should work together to function properly”.

The briefing centres on a presentation by Wiltshire’s Head of Systems Thinking and Customer Access John Rogers, who says the approach has already helped transform the authority’s garden waste renewals process, shifting 76% of formerly complex transactions to a new, automated digital service designed around peak customer times and not council office hours.

Systems thinking has also allowed Rogers and his team to identify the Council’s services that could most benefit from redesign, for the greatest impact – with libraries, leisure services and council tax topping the list.

“Our ethos is to design for value and ‘leave the waste behind’ rather than ‘focus on removing waste’. If you do the former well, the latter is a ‘byproduct’ and a realisable gain in capacity,” he claims.

For example, in one analysis of Wiltshire Council’s annual 3.3m service demand requests,  1.1m requests were found to be of an ‘I want to book’ nature, and predominantly in leisure and library services, a finding that then led to Wiltshire transforming these areas could make the most significant difference.

Socitm Head of Research Andy Hopkirk says the takeaway for the sector about the potential of systems thinking are to:

  • Properly understand service demand and the customer transaction process in detail
  • Redesign for the value delivered – not simply cost reduction, for example
  • Automate and make digital where possible, consistent with point 2
  • Be open to rethinking the organisational design by being willing to change any processes currently designed around management structures and not around service customers – and when information flows over past organisational boundaries, your frame of reference expands and you can re-imagine both services and structures on a bigger, more transformational, scale
  • Be pragmatic about what you do and when. Even within the top 20 or so opportunities, easy and quick returns are essential for a ‘self-funding’ programme that is seen to be successful and worthy of further support.

‘Business transformation with systems thinking in Wiltshire’, the latest Socitm Insight briefing, is freely available to those who use the Socitm Insight service, or organisations that have Socitm corporate membership. It is available at https://socitm.net/publications/business-transformation-with-systems-thinking-in-wiltshire