Abstracts: June 13th, 2013

This briefing from the Society for IT Management shows how councils can take advantage of digital and mobile technologies in response to the challenges of austerity.

The Better connected 2013 research examined councils’ use of social media, email alerts, customer accounts and other digital tools for citizen engagement and service delivery. Key findings and lessons from this research are set out in the briefing.

The briefing points out that the use of mobile devices for accessing council websites is increasing rapidly, thanks to the latest generation of smartphones and tablets.

Significantly, their use is making the web accessible to those who may not have access via desktop or laptops, a factor that has affected councils’ past commitment to online delivery of information and services.

Socitm data suggests that around 23 per cent  of visits to council websites are now made on mobile devices. The figures show a rapid increase, with numbers already likely to peak above that level at certain times of the day, in certain conditions (eg severe weather) and for particular uses, like reporting potholes.

However, Better connected’s assessment of council website readiness for mobile rated just 8 per cent of all councils as very good, and a further 17 per cent as satisfactory. The remaining 75 per cent  were rated poor.

The briefing highlights the fact that councils are now using online customer accounts to provide service users with the sort of facilities available from online banking or shopping. Users benefit from easy access to records about their use of council services, while the council benefits from data about service user activity and gains an extremely cost effective communications channel.

Better connected 2013 found 117 sites (27   per cent) promoting a customer account, including the London Borough of Newham, which is using the ‘My Newham’ as part of what the council calls an ‘aggressive’ channel shift strategy. As at 11 February 2013, the council had over 67,000 customers registered, representing 46.9 per cent of residential households.

Not all councils are so single-minded, with a good proportion of those with customer accounts failing to explain the benefits at the right point in the customer journey, or requiring the customer to log on separately to multiple accounts, a significant inconvenience.

The survey found that 31 per cent of councils continue to miss the opportunity to tell out of hours callers that the website is available.

According to Martin Reeves, Chief Executive, Coventry City Council, and immediate Past President of SOLACE Better connected 2013 should be ‘required reading for every senior manager and chief executive in local government.’

He adds: “It’s cheaper for us to do business online and it’s increasingly what our residents expect from us. We’ve been talking about improving the customer journey for people for years, now we have to combine this work with reducing demand for services as we face massive budget cuts.”

Better connected 2013: a briefing for the top management team is available at www.socitm.net