Just half of local authorities employ a chief digital officer

This is amid increased demand for digital citizen services following lockdowns, as councils spend more than £1.3 million on capital IT investments in last year, according to a Citrix FoI request

Posted 23 June 2021 by Christine Horton

Less than half (49 percent) of UK local authorities currently employ a chief digital officer, digital director or equivalent responsible for overseeing the organisation’s digital transformation, according to new research from Citrix.

The new figures were obtained following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request issued to more than 400 local authorities, with 234 responding. The findings indicate councils are divided on the requirement for c-suite level digital technology leaders, with less than two percent (four councils) yet to hire a CDO or equivalent but budgeting for the role in the future.

Inconsistent measurement of success of digital technology among employees

Councils are seemingly equally undecided on the value of actively measuring employee engagement with digital services (measuring engagement might be in the form of conducting a regular staff survey or hosting meetings to discuss whether employees are set up with the right IT to perform their job roles). Only 47 percent of councils were doing this when the request was submitted. A further 12 percent had plans to introduce the initiative within 3-6 months at the time of writing, with two in five (38 percent) not having any process in place or disclosing plans to do so.

Alongside this, the vast majority (81 percent) of local authorities also do not measure employee productivity linked to IT and / or digital investment. Less than one in 10 (eight percent) are doing so currently, with the same number (eight percent) planning to do so within the next 3-6 months.

“When it comes to putting strategic digital deployments at the forefront of their delivery models, councils still appear to be at a crossroads. From the employment of a chief digital officer to the measurement of staff engagement and productivity through technology, there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus on the pathway forwards in terms of deploying digital technology in a strategic way and measuring how it is enabling real change,” said Mark Sweeney, regional VP, UK & Ireland, Citrix.

Capital outlay on IT nearly equalling annual operational spends

In the last financial year, councils spent an average of £1.3 million each on capital IT investments, as part of a total outlay of over £81 million across the 63 authorities responding to this question. Operational IT spend in the same time period averaged £1.45 million per local authority, with a total of £53.8 million spent across the 37 councils which provided the data.

An average of £776,403 was spent on ‘subscription IT’ (e.g. SaaS cloud services, application subscriptions, etc.) per authority. This is based on a total spend of over £60m across the responding 78 local councils.

“There is also a risk that – despite years of investment in transforming their digital services, as well as fostering a more flexible working model – without proper staff consultation around technology, they could lose talented employees to other organisations,” Sweeney added.

“In today’s post-Covid landscape, citizens are more accustomed to digital-first services than ever before, so it is imperative councils continue to innovate and improve service delivery. Retaining digital skills within the organisation, as well as employing senior digital leaders, will be a critical component to do so.”