Digital transformation can be seen as expensive and slow. In cases like that of Denmark, transformation at national scale does indeed take time and a not-insignificant investment. When one starts researching digital transformation in the public sector, it rapidly becomes clear however that there are success stories across the spectrum of scale and cost.
Here then follows just a handful of brief examples of how the integration of digital technologies and connected systems have led to efficiency and even budgetary gains in public service.
Making do with a little in Leeds
In 2014, Leeds City Council launched Leeds Data Mill to find effective solutions to the increasing demands of its community despite decreasing resources. With £100,000 support from the Cabinet Office’s Release of Data Fund, the council wanted to collect Open Data from various sources and publish it on a single website from where people could explore, analyse and use the data to gain understanding and insights, and create new service solutions.
Since then, the program has expanded into a regional open data platform for the north of England – rebranding as Data Mill North. The platform currently hosts 580 published datasets in categories like Travel and Transport, Business and Economy, Energy and Climate Emergency, and more. Solutions created with the datasets include everything from smartphone apps with up-to-date, personalised info on refuse bin collection to a Social Housing Picker which helps people make more informed choices when placing bids on council housing. In addition to the solutions created through the program, the development of data standards by the program are helping improve the field of open data on a wider scale.
“As far as I’m concerned digital is clearly a massive part of everything we do in future,” says Stephen Blackburn, Data and Innovation Manager for Leeds City Council. “Taking the progressive, forward looking approach to open data that we are, enables us to be right at the centre of promoting the skills, diversity and passion of the people here in the North – exciting times ahead!”
Estonia’s digital first approach
At the turn of the millennium, the government of Estonia made the decision to digitally transform not just the public sector but Estonian society in its entirety. Declaring internet access a human right and ensuring a computer in every classroom by 2001, Estonia has gone on to become world-renowned for its digital-first ethos. Its digital-governance model has proven especially effective at attracting tech startups, benefiting the economy massively.
With its innovative e-Residency program in particular, Estonia is enabling the growth of its economy beyond the limits of geographical borders. In short, e-Residency lets digital entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world, start an EU-based business online through a government-issued digital identity kit.
This means that with e-Residency, an Australian entrepreneur would be able to start an Estonian company which they could run from anywhere in the world to serve clients across the EU. They would also be able to conduct their banking, leverage international payment service providers, securely sign documents through digital verification, and declare taxes – all online. Estonia’s corporate tax is capped at 20% and is only charged on profit distribution. Hence, by reinvesting profits within the company, no corporate income tax needs to be paid – an obvious benefit.
The success of the program has exceeded all expectations of the Estonian government, according to government Chief Information Officer, Siim Siikut. By Q3 2020 the scheme had generated over one billion Euros for the Estonian economy.
Staying connected with Mayo County Council
One of the key strengths of digital transformation is the flexibility in roll-out. The benefits of innovation are available to public sector institutions across the spectrum, no matter the size.
A fine example of this is County Mayo in the West of Ireland where the County Council is responsible for the housing and community, roads and transportation, urban planning and development, amenity and culture, and environmental concerns of its 130 000 constituents. As Ireland went into COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Mayo County Council needed a way to remain connected with and available to all members of the community.
Head of Digital Transformation at Mayo County Council, Danny O’Toole identified the need for an open and secure line of communication with residents as a cornerstone of the Council’s continuity strategy. So, Danny and his team used Microsoft Teams to set up a helpline that connected Council staff to residents across the county, seven days a week.
Despite the adoption of new technology proving a challenge in the past, the roll out of the system has proven to be effective, with even segments like the elderly making frequent use of the service. Most importantly, this allowed the County Council to ensure the availability of core services like Housing, Planning, Water, Environment, and emergency call outs despite more than 400 members of staff moving to remote working arrangements.
“Mayo County Council is one of the most innovative organisations we work with,” says Frank O’Donnell, Public Sector Lead at Microsoft Ireland. “And to be one of the first organisations worldwide to integrate Microsoft Teams into their call centre is no small feat.”