Article

Why executive leadership is the key to unlocking the power of digital transformation in local government

Local government saw unprecedented change as the pandemic disrupted both councils and communities. Councils mobilised to accelerate or devise digital transformation plans, quickly embracing new ways of working. But the transition has not been smooth for many - highlighting the role that leadership needs to play in successful digital transformation.

With the onset of COVID-19, many councils adopted a fragmented approach to building out their digital capabilities, rushing to digitise specific functions and services as opposed to planning a council-wide digital transformation approach. Inefficient solutions that were difficult to scale were quickly put into place to continue council operations. But these solutions didn’t meet councils’ usually high standards of service and compounded strain for internal IT resources.

When councils rely on a patchwork of isolated short-term solutions, they unintentionally open themselves up to cyber security risks, increase the complexity of hybrid manual and digital services that IT teams are expected to administer, and have to deal with the risks and compatibility issues around each new component.

Councils who responded best to the challenge had a holistic digital transformation blueprint that used complimentary technologies, had executive-level support, resources and training around standards and processes. From the beginning, and at every stage of the transformation, leadership must be deeply involved to ensure its success.

Although IT departments can often handle the strain that internal cyber security management places upon them, the larger issue is that many simply lack the wherewithal to actually tackle these complex problems. Blissful ignorance and hope are not a strategy.

Councils are entrusted with highly sensitive data about their employees and their communities, and in an increasingly complex cyber landscape, need to have a clear digital transformation vision and strategy in place to ensure best practices around data security and data privacy.

Three key digital challenges facing local government across Australia and New Zealand in 2021

1. Councils want to move forward with digital transformation but lack budgets and resources

Data from our 2021 Local Government Digital Transformation Index revealed that 83 per cent of respondents rated digital transformation as a high priority, but about half noted that they did not have adequate resources or lacked the budget to implement it. This is one of the key areas where leadership has the necessary influence— unlocking funding, hiring, equipment and services that under-resourced IT teams struggle to procure, or to communicate a need for. 

2. Improving customer satisfaction and employee productivity is the number one driver of digital transformation

Councils realise the importance of customer satisfaction, with 76% of respondents rating it as the highest priority for digital transformation. Employee productivity was similarly a big driver of overall digital uplift as employees shift to remote work becoming standard. When the pandemic forced organisations to pivot to a digital-first model, for many there was no planned, comprehensive strategy—IT teams were tasked with providing an immediate solution without a blueprint. Buy-in from executive leadership is crucial to ensure the council’s digital transformation blueprint ultimately serves the core needs of customers and employees.

3. Successful digital transformation relies on executive-level commitment to long term digital uplift

The 2021 Index tells us three quarters of best-in-class councils engaged their leadership team when scoping digital transformation projects. Implementing organisation-wide change requires buy-in and support from the executive level, down through thought leaders and key decision makers.

The logistics of coordinating budgets, internal resources, expertise, detailed planning, extensive change management (including training) and careful execution is challenging, even if the desire for digital transformation is there.

Re-orienting an entire council to digitally transform needs a push from the very top. Senior executives within the council should be driving the business case for transformation and unlocking required resources that their reports need to implement that vision. 

That means leadership needs to be on board early with the benefits of undertaking such a project and understand how it will impact not just the council, but the communities that rely on their services.

Collaboration with a skilled partner network familiar with the local government sector was another major factor in the success of a digital transformation strategy. This ensures ongoing guidance and support while assisting with the business case for further digital investments by the council.

Publish date

14 Jul 2021

Report

Discover your industry’s digital state of play

Complete the form to get your copy of the 2021 Local Government Digital Transformation Index.