Meet the sector: Local Government
In this meet the sector we look at Local Government. Get an overview of the sector and it's challenges, as well as how to approach local government buyers.
Local government 101
In 2015, local government spent £2.29 billion on ICT according to analyst firm TechMarketView. This is a substantial market and one well worth technology companies aiming for. Whilst councils have a reputation for being rather traditional, they are increasing their spend on cloud technology through innovative frameworks like the ones that can be found on the digital marketplace. Advice Cloud’s own analysis shows that some councils are spending as much as £17.6 million on G-Cloud, contributing to a sector spend of £146 million. Not all that money is going to the big vendors, either, with 59% of this spend going to small to medium size companies.
One of the things holding back technology vendors though is that the local government sector is a fairly complicated one. For a deep dive, Wikipedia is your friend. There are articles on local government structures in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Tech needs suppliers can solve
Local government provides a huge opportunity for technology firms to sell great products and services. The whole sector is facing a range of challenges, the solutions for which all involve IT and digital to one degree or another.
- Legacy Software
The first is the issue of legacy line of business systems (LOBs).
Because councils deliver so many disparate services to the community, over time the systems used to manage those services have become incredibly specialised. This might sound like a good thing but has resulted in technology silos where data is very hard to extract, share and analyse, applications that don’t often work well with mobile usage, and struggle to be integrated with customer accounts and other online experiences. On top of that, these systems are often costly to maintain, being run on-premise and involving many upgrades.
Many of these systems are made up of the sort of capabilities that can be standardised across a range of applications, things like case management, reporting, analytics, payments and assessments for example. Some commentators have suggested that public services, including local government, should adopt a ‘Lego’ style of technology procurement, replacing LOBs with new digital-native systems developed by stitching together these common components.
Whilst this sounds sensible in theory, in practice it is difficult to do, simply because of the business processes involved in local government services such as housing benefit and social care. However, there are still many workloads outside of these heavily regulated areas where the Lego approach will work.
What many councils are looking for are viable alternatives to the traditional systems and suppliers, who can deliver software that is cloud native, easy for customers to access and self-serve on, mobile ready for staff and able to share data for analysis.
- True Transformation
When it comes to digital, much of the focus over the years has been in the sphere of ‘digital access’ – taking existing services and making them accessible by customers through digital channels. In many cases, this means taking a paper form and putting it onto the web. This can make life more convenient for the customer, but it doesn’t bring the benefits of true digitisation, with these forms often just sending PDFs through to the back office for processing.
In order to make the most of the digital opportunities, councils have to completely redesign their services for the digital age. Part of making this a reality is using modern technology to base these services on, integrating web forms with back office systems, removing any unnecessary administrative steps, and doing as much as possible to make the process frictionless.
Vendors need to be alert to this, able to guide councils towards more radical change where it creates a greater opportunity to meet customer expectations whilst saving money. This is best done when the supplier is able to demonstrate how they themselves are digital age companies, using new business paradigms to meet their own users’ needs.
- Digital Capabilities
Councils have been going through change for a long time now. For example, just in the context of customer services, councils have been through the establishment of contact centres, the implementation of CRM systems, and channel shift – all of which have had impact on service delivery departments as well, of course.
Despite this ongoing change narrative, there are a wide range of skills and experience needed to make digital transformation happen. Councils tend to be well stocked in more traditional change roles such as project managers and business analysts, but emerging skillsets are less established, such as product management, service design, user research, agile delivery management and so on.
Vendors can support the sector by helping to develop these skills in councils, by following digital ways of working when implementing technology projects, demonstrating how these skills can help achieve successful digital outcomes. By exposing local authority teams to the benefits of these ways of working, it can encourage their take up in other projects, and encourage councils to invest in the necessary recruitment and learning and development to embed them in everyday culture and operations.
Top tips for selling to local government
Selling to local government can be a challenge. Partly this is due to the complexity of the sector and the different ways it organising itself locally. Also, technology leaders are inundated with unsolicited marketing and sales pitches, which makes getting your signal heard through all the noise very difficult.
- Talk to the right person
A familiar story here, as not every council is structured in the same way and the person you need to speak to in each organisation may have a different job title and sit in a different part of the hierarchy.
For example, some council have all their technology purchased through their IT department (which could also be called the digital team). Such departments could be led by a CIO, or a CDO, or a CTO, or perhaps a Head of ICT. That person may well be a good first contact to try – but bear in mind they are likely to be very busy and also be inundated with pitches every day.
However, depending on the nature of your technology, it might be that someone who deals with customer service is the best person to approach – particularly if telecommunications is involved. Customer service leaders are often tasked with wider transformation programmes as well!
Another area that can be confusing is if your offering is directly related to the web and publishing, as web teams can often sit in a variety of locations, including communications, IT or customer service.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to spend some time figuring out what user needs your product or service best meets, and then researching each council to see which officer is likely to lead on that area of work. That could simply be a case of ringing the general switchboard and asking who leads on digital transformation, or customer experience etc.
- Understand the local context
Key to making a sale in local government is knowing the specific challenges that a council is facing. Just because many councils deliver the same services and are facing the same corporate challenges, as discussed above, does not mean the specifics are the same!
Because every council has its own set of elected members that make policy decisions, the precise way in which services are designed can differ – sometimes subtly, sometimes in more major ways. This means that cookie-cutter sales pitches are unlikely to work.
Instead, your initial pitch is best to be one of discovery – finding out what the specific challenges are that your contact is having to deal with and getting to grips with the context they are operating in. Rather than wading in immediately extolling the virtues of your product or service, ask about what is currently on the todo list of your contact, why they need to be doing those things, and what the outcome is that the council as a whole is trying to achieve.
- Be helpful, not pushy
Fundamentally, your message needs to be a supportive one, and not a blatant sales pitch. This might sound obvious, but it is a message that isn’t getting through to everyone if council officers’ inboxes are anything to go by. Your aim should be to develop trust between you and your contact, to convince them that you understand their context and can help with whatever it is they have on their plate – and most importantly that you know what you are talking about.
Rob Miller, the Director for ICT at Hackney Council, has produced a really helpful guide for vendors pitching people in councils. It’s well worth a read to avoid annoying practice and to shape your marketing efforts in a positive way.