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ALGIM predicts a digital world for local government in 2016

Mike Manson Chief Executive Officer Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM)

Expect technology issues to come to the fore this year as open data, shared services, cloud technologies and digital citizen engagement take off, says Mike Manson, chief executive officer of the Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM)

For many local authorities, 2015 was a year of digital awareness, generated by the government’s plan to roll out ultrafast broadband to 80 percent of New Zealand households. A total of 74 of New Zealand’s 78 councils submitted registrations of interest. In the following months of intense work, individual digital enablement plans were developed that demonstrated buy-in from the communities proposed for inclusion in the UFB2 programme.

We eagerly await the announcement early this year of which communities will be successful in their bid to have urban fibre laid in areas not covered under the UFB1 rollout.

For many local authorities 2016 will be the start of the digital journey – putting in place those digital action plans, and developing programmes for community and the business sector.

But what about the business of council? ALGIM believes there will be a lot of analysis and research undertaken towards developing the concept of a ‘digital council’. In support, ALGIM will be building a new white paper that will discuss how to navigate the many ‘twists and turns’ of changing to a digital environment. For some, this will be uncharted territory.

ALGIM thought leadership

ALGIM, within its mandate of providing thought leadership to the local government ICT sector, produced a number of white papers last year. Of particularly significance was the ALGIM joint venture with SOLGM to create a discussion document on disruptive technologies and the readiness of local government for the changes that the digital revolution is bringing. The Fit for a Digital Future paper is a ‘must read’, though recognising that in some perspective it is already out of date, such is the current pace of technological advancement.

In laying foundations for the digital world, ALGIM also developed a white paper on linked data for local government. In partnership with Horizons Regional Council, Brighton University, Sedgemoor District Council in the UK and others, ALGIM has compiled a comprehensive look at the power of linking up data that is stored within systems across multiple councils.

This paper was released at the 2015 Annual ALGIM Conference and is part of a range of initiatives proposed on the topic of open data.

Open data has the ability to drive economic growth in communities. It can unleash numerous start-up opportunities for businesses using data to develop new initiatives. How big are these opportunities? President Barack Obama believes the economic value in terms of growth is between US$3.5 to US$5 trillion globally.

Envisaging open data as a topic that will advance within the local authority environment in 2016, ALGIM brought Laura Manley from the Center for Open Data in Washington DC to New Zealand last November to present to the ICT sector a new approach to open data, namely a focus on ‘demand driven’ open data – as opposed to publishing datasets that the ICT sector thinks may be useful.

Further within the digital theme, ALGIM developed a discussion paper Born Digital Records looking at how valuable information created digitally may be being lost by councils without adequate thinking about preservation of these digitally-created records.

During 2015 ALGIM also published, in conjunction with our sister organisations, papers on public wifi, paperless council meetings, the council dashboard and using digital innovation to generate value.

Looking forward

The year ahead will see New Zealand councils further explore cloud opportunities; using the cloud to host or provide infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS). It will be critical to put adequate safeguards in place to prevent data breaches of privacy, security and sovereignty.

ALGIM will be working on a roadmap to provide councils with sound advice and a structured checklist to achieve the best possible outcome.

This will be another year of change. The platform to adopt digital service delivery is now a burning one, but must always be looked at through the customer experience. Councils will be faced with a new breed of citizen, the ‘digital native’, who is very conversant with a digital world – in fact, knows nothing else!

They will expect their councils to be digitally savvy. They won’t use a fax, will be reluctant to use email, voice calls will not be the communication of choice and social media will dominate their world.

To illustrate this point, ALGIM recently presented a case study outlining how citizens of Brimbank City Council in Victoria, Australia, fought to change the council’s planned expenditure on a website redevelopment project. Residents claimed their preferred communication method with council was via their smartphones.

With overwhelming majority support, capital expenditure was re-focused to develop an app that provided quick and effective access to council information.

Service and collaboration

Improving customer engagement will continue to be a focus. Last year saw the launch of the ALGIM Customer Service toolkit, a product we believe has the power to considerably enhance the customer experience through sharing and collaboration, creating standards and assessing progress.

The cost of providing services will remain, as always, at the forefront of local government. Throughout New Zealand, councils are forming collaborations to deliver ICT services, sharing systems, infrastructure and resources.

In Wellington, collaboration has resulted in a shared network platform, financial system, hosting and resources. Other examples are appearing in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Far North and Manawatu… to name a few.

In summary, ALGIM predicts a 2016 council focus on open data, shared services, cloud technologies and digital citizen engagement. Of key interest will be the Privacy Commissioner’s review of legislation that affects local government in terms of public registers, contradictory requirements from different Acts and how best to go forward with releasing property data.

ALGIM is excited to be part of the journey, and will continue to provide tools, case studies and advice regarding best practice to support its council members.

This article was first published in NZ Local Government Magazine’s Perspectives 2016.

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