Technological innovations have been changing the way we work for years. From the introduction of broadband, to the adoption of cloud computing, technology has always found ways to make our working lives more efficient.
Today’s new wave of technologies is no different. New applications, robotics and 3D printing all have the potential to transform how local authorities work. And they’ve already started to do so. Whilst councils have always been open to finding new ways of digitalising working practices, the pandemic has forced that process to accelerate.
There’s been a huge response from people wanting to volunteer during COVID-19. Although great to see, it needed a monumental effort to coordinate where and how people were deployed. Platforms like Elemental made the task much easier.
50% of London boroughs turned to Elemental to help them handle their local effort. As well as connecting vulnerable people to volunteers in their area, it gave them access to a live interactive database of services – anything from online support, to grocery and pharmacy deliveries, to an NHS library app.
It’s also a social prescribing software, creating an interconnected web of health professionals to collaborate and refer people over to the support they need. And it measures how effectively the service is performing, so local authorities can keep reviewing areas they can improve.
Technology has stepped in for the more every day matters, too. Waltham Forest launched a chatbot on Facebook and Twitter for residents to make complaints about minor offences. People were able to get a live response straight away and the council could deal with the problem much quicker.
However, all new technologies bring a unique blend of risks and challenges that councils need to consider. By disrupting traditional procedures, new technologies can generate new and unexpected problems. Some audiences may have preferred the old way of doing things and could see it as a cause to complain. And councils may find themselves exposed to new threats, or unprepared for new demands.
Connected devices – also known as the Internet of Things – is a prime example where the drawbacks may overshadow the benefits. On the one hand, devices that respond to one another can bring efficiency savings. Demand-sensitive parking meters, streetlights that can detect approaching vehicles, and intelligent CCTV cameras all have the capacity to revolutionise the local area.
But contrary to that, experts have identified connected devices as a potential weak spot, which could prove an irresistible target for hackers. Should the council’s property or infrastructure be compromised, it could bring about disastrous consequences, damaging the relationship between the council and its citizens.
This doesn’t mean that local authorities should stay away. Instead, they should conduct thorough risk assessments before progressing with new technology, embedding an awareness of the risks from the very beginning.
Given the power of the latest wave of innovative technology to revolutionise our communities, caution is understandable. After all, disruption usually involves some pain. But with the right mindset, councils can adopt new technologies with greater confidence, whilst being aware of the associated risks.
Published date: 19th August 2020
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London Borough Digital Responses to Covid-19 by the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) – webinar presentation (2020).