Our last blog explored the “big themes” of transformation which recurred throughout the event. Many discussions focused on how organisational, service and cultural transformation are crucial – but how this must be coupled with a transformation of the underlying technology. This means replacing legacy, siloed, closed and inflexible systems, with agile, flexible, interoperable solutions, most commonly now consumed as “as a Service” cloud offerings.
This was explored in more detail at our Group Discussion, which asked the question whether a single business application platform is a realistic and worthwhile target for authorities. The question was asked more to provoke discussion, than because we thought it could ever be achieved. We all know authorities are complex, providing a myriad of inter-dependent services. But platform applications have surely reached a point where they could replace many, if not the majority, of unloved legacy systems?
By the end of the discussion a few key themes had emerged which the whole audience agreed on:
By having a “single platform” target, it encourages good practice around architecture and reuse, simplification (of technology and services), and collaboration within the business.
With so much of the event focused on sharing best practice, anything which allows authorities using the same platforms to share experiences, but also process definition, templates, and even code, can only be a good thing for local government. Some vendors have gone as far as creating repositories of sharable assets, and others encourage and even organise government-specific sharing forums.
When each business function is supported by discrete, different applications, it presents a barrier to productivity and agility. Employees frequently need to use multiple applications, with different workflows, user interfaces etc. Common platforms offer consistency to end users as well as to the business and IT.
The event included a number of fascinating keynotes on work towards an integrated joined-up view of adults, children and families. This traditionally involves a complex web of integrations between a plethora of systems from different vendors, using different methods, and often complex matching and de-duplication services. When multiple services are delivered within a common platform, good governance means instantiating a “golden” customer record against which that person’s interactions with the council (and potentially other public bodies) can build up. At the same time, the right platform will offer a comprehensive security model which ensures only the right people, using the right device, have access to any information.
As well as preferring platforms which facilitate sharing of configurations, the group also called out the importance of platforms being open. One example is the ability to export configuration information into “neutral” formats, so if an authority changes technology platform, their processes can be at best exported and imported, or at worst recreated manually. Another important aspect was the importance of vendors documenting and exposing their APIs and schema, and providing open access to the data within through a variety of different methods. There was uniform agreement that being required to pay for access to APIs, data, or for platforms to be intentionally over-complex or opaque thereby preventing authorities writing their own integration or reporting, could no longer be considerable acceptable practice.
Many contributors called out that there are still many services which are fundamentally duplicated across authorities, and that there is still scope for greater adoption of shared services rather than shared IP. Revenues & Benefits was called out as a specific example, duplicated across numerous authorities, and an area where good shared services offerings could deliver significant savings.
The discussion could have run for far longer than the allotted time, and it is a topic which needs further, more detailed discussion but, more importantly, practical action to build on the opportunity. Large numbers of councils already use common platforms, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, and it has never been more important that vendors and customers come together to make sharing a reality.
In closing, to answer the question posed in the discussion I would summarise the group’s conclusion as: A single application platform may not be an achievable target, but by aiming for it we drive the right behaviours, and will realise worthwhile outcomes. In this case, the old cliché of “the journey is more important than getting to the end” could not be more apt.