Local Government - Trends in Application of ICT


The Society of Information Technology Management (SOCITM) was established in the mid-eighties to serve the interest of Heads of ICT in UK local authorities and other parts of the public sector. The membership is now approaching 1000 and includes people working in housing associations.

One of its first activities was to commission a survey of "IT Trends" in local government. This has been carried out every year since 1987 and the 2000 survey was published on 4 December. It is based on a lengthy questionnaire sent to the Heads of ICT in the 441 local authorities of England, Wales and Scotland to which we achieve a 50% response rate. We also seek the views of ICT users through supplementary questionnaires each year to heads of the main services - this year it was the turn of chief executives.

The survey enables us to estimate how much local government invests in ICT hardware, software and services, organisational arrangements, numbers of ICT staff employed and the technology deployed. Using past years' data we are able to forecast trends as well as the current picture. The survey also covers issues of topical interest - this year, as might be expected, there is a strong focus on E-government and Best Value.

This paper highlight some of the findings from the 2000 survey which are relevant to those working in the housing sector.

E-government Targets

Central to the Government's modernising agenda is the establishment of targets for electronic service delivery (ESD) and electronic procurement as set out in its E-government strategy. This requires electronic delivery methods to be in place for all appropriate central government public services by 2005 and to adopt e-procurement methods for 90% of low value transactions by 2001. It is expected that similar targets for ESD will shortly be announced for local authorities as part of the Best Value regime. We found that:

Joined up Government

The Government is promoting the idea of seamless public services and most authorities are enthusiastic about this. 84% say they have initiatives in hand to improve the integration of services within the council and 70% with other organisations. They say there is plenty of information exchange between organisations though we suspect that much of this is ad hoc since fewer have developed shared information systems.

Councils think there is plenty of scope for "joining up" with housing associations and other organisations such as health authorities and government agencies.

Obstacles to delivering E-government

Funding is seen as the main constraint as well as the fact that there are just too many initiatives to cope with. Authorities are also concerned about the conflicting priorities of different organisations when it comes to developing joined up services and of poor co-ordination between organisations.

Public interest in E-government

Public interest in getting access to electronic services is perceived to be fairly low at present. This is not surprising since few services are available yet. However, interest is expected to grow over the next few years but it needs to be accepted that many members of the public will take a long time to adapt to new ways of interacting with their councils. Businesses may be expected to take to electronic methods more readily and councils should perhaps concentrate on this area initially.

Best Value

Legislation, which is now in force, requires local authorities to review all services every five years according to the principles of "best value". They must measure and publish their performance against nationally set indicators. We found that most chief executives and heads of ICT feel that reviews should explicitly consider the role of ICT in improving service delivery. As a result, an electronic delivery option may often emerge but this is different, and preferable, to introducing E-services simply because the Government says they should.

E-government: Which Technologies?

Those seen as most relevant to ESD today are:

There is also interest in Digital TV as a way of providing services in the home and in Smart Cards but it is likely to be a few years before practical applications are implemented.

Some authorities use Video Conferencing and others have installed Public Information Kiosks. However there seems to be no great enthusiasm for these and their use can be expected to remain static or decline.

The figure shows the responses to a question asking heads of ICT which technologies they consider to be most important to helping their authorities to modernise over the next few years in accordance with the Government's Modernising Agenda.

Relative Importance of Technologies

E-government: Implications for the Housing Sector

Most of the above is as relevant to housing departments of local authorities and housing associations as it is to anyone else. There is considerable scope for the housing sector to provide customers with electronic methods of accessing information and services, particularly outside office hours. These could include arranging repairs to properties, paying rent or obtaining information about vacant properties.

Since most housing clients will also use other public services, there are strong arguments for developing the joined up approach to delivering services. The survey shows that it is not easy but that doesn't mean you should not try.

The technologies are clearly relevant. Housing clients need to make frequent contact with their authorities and the technologies described can make it much easier for them to obtain information and improve the quality of services.

Application Software Index

In 1999 SOCITM started an annual survey of application software used by local authorities. The 2000 survey covers 50 functions and provides information on suppliers, hardware platforms, age of software and planned replacement dates. It also provides ratings of satisfaction with suppliers and their products. It includes contact details and brief product summaries for 100 of the main suppliers.

The index covers housing and shows the market shares of the main suppliers of housing management systems - First Software, Academy, Orchard, Rebus, Systems Team and IBS.

To order either report, please contact the SOCITM Office on 01604-674800 or look on the SOCITM web site.

Brian Westcott, Editor