Andy Peart, marketing director, Yotta, explains why councils must use a single ‘any asset’ or service management system to rationalise their infrastructure asset management systems
Local authorities across the UK are focused on making the places and assets they look after safer and more efficient but often they need to do this while working to ever-tighter budgets. Achieving these goals is especially challenging, given that many systems have evolved in a piecemeal fashion to cover different service areas, as and when required.
Authorities have often also focused on buying specialist systems to address the needs of specialist areas from street lighting to green spaces; playground management; domestic waste collection and even areas like allotment management or graveyards.
There are large swathes of a council’s services responsibilities that are not systematised at that level today. But there are many hundreds of systems out there servicing very discrete specific areas of asset management or service management inside a local authority.
Over time, these individual systems have become rich in functionality and service-specific information. However, that intelligence is often kept in isolated stores benefiting the individual department but failing to support cross-department collaboration and therefore ultimately hindering the council back from achieving the efficiencies that might otherwise have been within its grasp.
Although some providers have tried to move infrastructure asset management solutions into a hosted environment, many still can’t share or connect data between different service areas – so the information stays in departmental silos and councils lack the high-level overview they need to streamline their service delivery, improve their citizen’s experience, or save money.
A siloed legacy infrastructure approach also limits the high levels of flexibility that councils need to quickly adapt to changes in service demand and delivery – both of which are evolving fast. For example, predicting the precise patterns of future service demand at a local level became all but impossible when working models changed from fully office based to completely remote as organisations adapted to a world living with Covid.
The only certainty is that service demand will be high. Thanks to the establishment of hybrid working, many people are spending more time in their local area, and are therefore more aware of how nearby roads, pavements, parks, green spaces, and trees are managed, as well as how waste and recycling collections are delivered. They want optimum levels of service and with rapid service delivery increasingly the norm in their everyday lives as consumers, they want it quickly.
That can be a problem for local authorities with a siloed approach that suddenly have to deal with spikes in service demand. It is, after all, difficult to speedily re-deploy operational staff into high-demand areas quickly and safely and with minimal additional training, if you have a different legacy solution for each separate service area.
Moving away from a siloed approach
So, continuing loyalty to specialist systems that promote siloed ways of working represents an inflexible, expensive, and risky approach for councils to pursue. But many councils have stuck with it over time because at the time that all this evolution was happening, there was not a generalist system available to meet all their needs. Specialist systems simply evolved through relationships and time. Some of them have gone on to dominate a particular slice of the market. But they have tended not to have ever been considered vulnerable, due to the lack of a viable alternative.
That’s no longer the case today, though, as technology has advanced and new generalist functionality and capabilities have come in stream.
So, for these local authorities to find a way or remove all these specialist systems and replace them with a single system that can be configured to meet the goals of all these individual areas. or the individual asset owner is understandably, becoming an increasingly attractive option.
A further factor playing into all this is that as local authorities have been forced to cut back on staffing levels in response to the challenging financial situation many are facing today, they have been asking some of the remaining employees to become more generalist in their approach as well so that they can be flexible enough to fill in and meet service needs where demand is highest. In other words, whereas ten years ago, a council employee may have been asked to be an inspector of a specific asset type or a specific process, that member of staff is likely to be asked to inspect different assets across multiple different service areas.
That can be an issue if the inspector concerned has to swap between many different systems to do that. They will inevitably be unfamiliar with how the technology works. This will inevitably mean a big overhead in terms of training and in terms of building the user experience, while employees will need to demonstrate great flexibility and willingness to change to move from system to system.
Finding a single embedded IT service management system
Today, however, a solution is in sight and increasingly available. More and more local authorities are reaping the rewards of rationalising their infrastructure asset management systems and replacing them with a single ‘any asset’ or service management system that can be configured to meet the goals of an individual service area or asset owner.
In short, they know they need, and are increasingly implementing, an overarching, connected approach to infrastructure asset management across multiple service areas backed by connected technology. Indeed, a single embedded IT system is the foundation of a joined-up working approach and more streamlined operations, helping eliminate duplication of effort, and support unified operational services.
Choosing a system that has a single consistent user interface is key, making it easier for employees to use. This gives authorities the flexibility to move staff into other areas of high need, or priority, quickly, with less need for in-depth technology systems training. They will only have one system to go out with and learn.
That’s one key element but beyond that such an approach will also deliver operational efficiencies, helping councils provide a wide variety of services from emptying bins to filling potholes and keeping the streets clean and safe quickly and effectively. It also allows connectivity with other public-facing websites; CRM and mobile apps as well as helping the authorities gather information, ensure it gets to the right people and use it proactively to keep residents informed and engaged.
Operational staff can work from anywhere – their home, the office, or out on-site in the field. They can use mobile capability to continue to work effectively without making unnecessary and time-consuming visits to the office, for example, to pick up the daily task lists or schedules.
Inspectors can be on-site, logging issues in real-time and that activity can be relayed to back office administrative teams. Workflows can be generated and communicated quickly to operational staff out in the field. They can be assigned new jobs or have projects changed without having to attend the depot. That improves both the visibility and progress of work as well as communication both within and between teams. Moreover, having a consistent user interface and user experience across all devices enables users to be quickly moved between service areas and get rapidly up to speed and up and running on them.
Not only can this technology deliver flexibility in terms of local authorities connecting different elements of their services, operatives in the field with back office administrative staff, for example. It can also help the public gain access to all the latest service information through the use of open application programming interfaces (APIs). After all, if council’s have systems with open APIs, it is easy for them to connect with other systems and through such an approach make key information publicly available and keep citizens informed through a variety of channels. It is yet another compelling reason the age of local authorities relying on siloed infrastructure asset management systems, developed in a piecemeal fashion over many years, is nearing its end.