Audit Scotland – Action Plan for Local Digital Government
In January 2021 Audit Scotland published their latest review of Scotland’s Local Government progress with digital transformation.
Their recommendations form the backbone of the strategy for this DigitalGovernment.scot initiative, addressing three main work streams:
- A National Strategy.
- Skills and Digital Transformation.
- Common Platforms.
A National Strategy
The headline conclusions define the need for a single, overall strategy:
“no one is taking an aerial view”
“councils want a national direction on procurement and common platforms”
“Stronger collective national leadership is required to help prioritise and coordinate activities between councils (and other sectors) to deliver the refreshed digital strategy.”
DigitalGovernment.scot can organize this focal point and strategic view, in particular through providing one of the key requirements:
“councils wanting a single national repository of case studies and digital solutions.”
The site provides such a repository, documenting case studies such as North Lanarkshire Council, Registers of Scotland and Dundee City Council among others. We’ll ramp up this analysis and documentation to create a knowledge encompassing all of Scotland’s transformation projects.
Skills and Digital Transformation
The fundamental challenge councils face is lacking the skills required to envision, plan and deliver digital transformation.
“Councils do not have enough staff with the required digital skills to implement their digital plans successfully.”
“Councils have yet to prepare detailed workforce plans that are clearly aligned with digital transformation plans and risk failing to build the capacity needed to meet their digital aims. Councils should develop a competency framework that sets out the digital skills needed across the workforce.”
“Councils that are making progress have visions for digital transformation that go beyond technology to focus on people and outcomes. Their strategies are more outward looking and are linked to wider corporate priorities. Plans detailing how and when visions will be achieved are less well developed.”
“Councils should have a clear digital vision and strategy that sets out how digital transformation will deliver better outcomes for people. The strategy should be supported by plans detailing actions, timescales and the required investment in technology, people and skills.”
In particular they focus on the skills of digital service design:
“There has been a lack of citizen involvement in digital service design and not enough focus on outcomes in monitoring progress of digital programmes.”
“To better understand the needs of citizens, councils should have a citizen and community engagement plan and ensure they have sufficient staff with the skills to carry out service design.”
“User research and service design methods are not yet well established in councils and the Scottish Approach to Service Design is not widely understood.”
“There are good examples of front-line workers being involved in service design, but the involvement of citizens and communities is limited in practice.”
“Creating ‘connector’ roles within a council – that is people who can provide a bridge between digital and service teams – can help people understand what is needed from both a technical and business viewpoint during service design.”
Recommendations to address this include:
- To better understand the needs of citizens, councils should have a citizen and community engagement plan and ensure they have sufficient staff with the skills to carry out service design.
- Councils need to improve how they monitor outcomes. This could include adopting a benefits realisation approach.
- Insufficient staff capacity and digital skills are the most significant barriers to progress. There are digital skills initiatives in place, but there needs to be better alignment with councils’ wider workforce plans.
They also highlight the lacking involvement of elected members in the transformation process:
“Few councils have a dedicated council committee with a remit for digital transformation or nominated elected members involved in championing digital transformation.”
“A lack of digital skills and knowledge among elected members prevents more thorough scrutiny of digital programmes.”
“There is some evidence of councils providing digital skills training and support for elected members but appetite and participation is varied.”
Councils should conduct a staff skills survey to better understand what digital and data skills they need. Councils should have detailed workforce and skills development plans, including for leadership teams and elected members, that align with digital transformation plans.
Audit Scotland also identifies a need for a much improved approach to Technical Architecture, with a view to implementing Common Platforms.
“The Digital Office and Partnership have not delivered on their original goal to deliver common platforms and joint procurement of systems, failing to meet council expectations.”
“a lack of leadership direction and collective understanding of where common platforms would add most value.”
They provide a couple of examples of
- SEEMiS – the management information system used by the education departments of all Scottish councils. It is used for pupil and staff records, nursery applications, attendance, pastoral notes and communicating with external agencies.
- Care case management system – Scotland Excel is currently managing procurement for common software solutions for case management in social work. Six councils are considering adopting this system as they replace legacy systems.
“Senior-level agreement between councils is needed to identify the areas and services where common platforms would add most value.”
A key factor that Common Platforms should address is the modernization of legacy systems:
“Councils should understand their technology infrastructure and have a clear plan to address legacy systems to create better coordinated solutions. This could include common platforms and shared procurement.”
“Councils still have a large number of legacy systems and will need to continue to invest in their technical architecture as well as people and skills. Legacy systems create risks for councils in the need for staff resources to maintain them. They can also present security risks, can lack interoperability with the latest systems and software, and can experience hardware failures.”
“Councils have expressed frustration with traditional procurement processes with suppliers, suggesting that they hamper innovation and would benefit from a more collaborative approach.”