Tech companies’ role in local authorities response to Covid-19

By embedding technology into local support mechanisms, authorities are also supporting tech companies’ operations that are becoming exponentially more vital to overall communication and administrative functionality.

The synthesis between the public, tech firms and local authorities in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak means that each group is benefiting and supporting each other.

How are technology and local authorities supporting the public, and how is the symbiotic relationship between tech companies and local authorities improving all aspects of both for the individuals and businesses?

Organisational benefits of public and private sector collaboration

Jes Ladva, head of the Government Practice, Odgers Interim, sees clear, positive outcomes for businesses and communities if they chose to work with local authorities.

Part of this is tech companies supporting efforts to improve support infrastructures, in return for local authorities coordinating opportunities for tech businesses to expand their service portfolios.

Tech companies will support specific areas required for dealing with Covid-19.

“Some authorities are engaging with their digital and tech business communities through business boards to see how services could be assisted at speed with technology and digital enablement. A number of key areas are being prioritised, this includes fast track workstreams around food poverty and developing apps that can better track and plan for demands in food and living resources to ensure vulnerable communities are supported. It also includes assisted care where tech enabled support is being offered to vulnerable communities around day to day support and living, for example getting prescriptions delivered for those in self-isolation,” said Ladva.

Ladva also sees new coordination between governments and businesses. “Likewise, we’re beginning to see ad hoc measures to centralise innovation that has an effective response to Covid-19, such as large-scale respiratory manufacture. However, this needs to be considered alongside practical demands – is there the technological infrastructure or skills in place to make this happen?

“Generally, dialogue to businesses from central and local government has been limited due to the immediate and more pressing health needs of the public. Local government is of course very much dependent on a central government direction around things like business rates etc.”

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Covid-19: a catalyst for a tech-led approach to the public sector?

Jonathan Clark, head of the Public Sector Practice, Berwick Partners, stresses that local authorities are looking to tech companies to provide solutions for communicating with the public and monitoring their health.

He says: “Given the demographic and proportional differences in vulnerable service users it’s hard to generalise but we are seeing a number of local authorities use every channel available to them to most effectively communicate with their residents. Whilst there is a channel shift towards online and self-service applications amongst local authorities this is haphazard and down to individual organisations, the appetite of elected members and the ability of officers to utilise digital technology.”

Clark also makes clear that there are emerging technological demands beginning to develop within local government, areas that tech companies could find commercial success and government support if they cater for.

He comments: “It’s important to note that the technology does exist for local authorities. This is no more evident than in the independent healthcare space where there is a commercial imperative to deliver services efficiently. Right now, telecare, assistive care and adaptive technologies are still comparatively under-utilised but I expect we’ll see more local authorities turn to these during this crisis. An unintended consequence of Covid-19 is that it will likely be a catalyst for this tech-led approach in the public sector. As to the true extent of the take-up and delivery now, I suspect we will only find out after the event.”

Government role in the development and embedding of technology

Matt Cockbill, head of the IT and Technology Leadership Practice, Berwick Partners, makes the point that local authorities continue to try and improve infrastructure to attract more businesses.

By doing so they have pre-empted the current situation meaning digital companies have a stable platform of operations to utilise in the coming months.

He explains: “While no CIO or CTO would wish this upon their organisation the investment in enterprise mobility, and underlying continuity planning, is paying dividends for communities up and down the country. Government has been a real driver for digital first, digital by default services for service users and service consumers, often setting the pace ahead of industry. For example, the London Borough of Hounslow has for some time been investing in the underlying infrastructure to ensure they are a prime location for businesses, large and small, and able to provide the connectivity to enable residents to effectively live and work (from home) in the Borough. Such investments are never more valuable than now.”

Reducing contact during the outbreak with ‘digital first’ solutions

Cllr Peter Fleming, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Innovation Board, said:

“Councils are working hard to do the best for their communities during this national emergency, embracing innovative approaches, tools and techniques to enable them to deliver vital local services.

“This includes using digital-first solutions to help residents access important council services online, rather than visiting offices in person, helping to maintain social distancing.

“The majority of council services are now available online, such as requesting help or advice, submitting applications and paying council tax.

“During this time councils have also adopted remote team working, to make sure that they continue to provide the services their communities need and expect.”