When a digital transaction can be 50 times less expensive than one conducted face-to-face, it's easy to see why local governments should embrace digital.
Around the world digital city services are boosting citizen engagement and satisfaction, increasing employee productivity, reducing costs and carving out new competitive niches in a global knowledge economy.
Despite these benefits many governments still look at the Internet and smartphones as communications tools, not as better ways to provide services.
"Digital engagement is a central part of the services landscape of any local government," says Chris O'Connor, Manager of Digital and Data at the city of Casey in Victoria.
He is currently leading the digital transformation program and Digital Casey strategy in Victoria's most populous municipality. He says digital is "core council business."
"As the providers of public services, we are not seeking to drive competitive advantage and beat the competition. Nor are we trying to drive profit by increasing our market share.
"We are simply trying to deliver the best services that meet the needs of the community we serve, to a standard and at a price point that represents good public value.
"We have an opportunity to build — or rebuild — services that better meet the needs of our customers at a far lower cost."
Why digital is more than a simple equation
Behind the scenes, the people who work at Casey can benefit from digital too.
"The more processes we automate or streamline, the more time our people can spend doing the work that matters to them — serving the community," O'Connor adds.
Initially, the city's business case for digital transformation was a "simple equation."
"By shifting our customers to digital channels, they can transact with us anywhere, any time and on any device. And we reduce our transaction costs."
This proved true. The council's digital transformation team built 16 digital services — which collectively accounted for more than half of transaction volume — in its first year of operation.
But O'Connor says his team was quick to realise that the opportunity was greater than simply replicating paper forms online.
"We are now redefining our services by taking a 'life event' approach," he explains.
"Rather than the user needing to navigate through our complex website and, by chance, find the service appropriate for their circumstance, we now ask our customers to give us a little bit of information about their circumstances to inform a personalised service offer."
The council’s first foray into this "new world" is BabySteps, a platform that helps new parents navigate the services and support available to them.
"It’s early days, but BabySteps has been well received by our customers."
New ways of thinking and working
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and the council has had to overcome "legacy issues and legacy thinking."
"Our core enterprise systems are over 10 years old and don’t have interfaces or webservices that allow for easy integration.
"We spent a lot of time introducing concepts like minimum viable product, failing fast and design thinking. Our traditional teams were challenged to adapt to a faster pace of delivery than they were used to.
"And we'd deliberately recruited for attitude rather than experience, which put everyone on a steep learning curve when there was pressure to succeed."
With the first year's program a "terrific" success — delivering a 90 per cent satisfaction rating — he and his team are now taking on bigger challenges.
"We are taking a platform approach to development, building applications that can expand and integrate with other systems into the future."
The biggest obstacle the city faces as it embraces a digital future is the "legacy architecture."
"If we are to truly transform our services to improve the customer and staff experience, and to develop a scalable and sustainable model, we must completely transform the back end. We need to build a new application architecture that is easily integrated, cloud-based for scalability, open source where possible and underpinned by a solid foundation of information architecture."
While O'Connor and his team build the business case to take on this challenge, he's quick to emphasise that Digital Casey is not a "point-in-time strategy."
"We are adopting new ways of thinking, operating and governing our business, all underpinned by digital technology."
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