With a very small number of exceptions, the established local government technology market is populated by companies that fundamentally do not understand user research.
They do not start with user needs or design great user experiences. And they do not use the tools and techniques of the internet age to deliver working software rapidly, so that real users get value from it quickly and iteratively.
I wrote a little while ago that the software market for local government is one of the things holding back the success of transformation in the sector. Gavin argues the point well in this post – it’s a fairly long read but worth the effort.
Why is local government software bad? Let me count the ways…
- It’s hard to maintain, taking up huge resources to keep systems patched and updated
- It’s siloed, with data unable to be meaningfully analysed and shared with other systems
- It’s user hostile, with manuals in lever arch ring binders and training needed to do the most basic of operations
- It’s hard to access, often hosted in council data centres, requiring the use of council equipment and connecting technology like Citrix to get anything done
I’m a little glum on this topic. My fear is that there are a couple of things holding back progress. The first is that the market for local government software isn’t big enough to provide the necessary reward for the investment needed to fix it. Second is that the develop challenge isn’t particularly exciting and thus the vendors struggle to attract the talent needed to make really great software.
One solution is for government to write its own software, although that would mean organisations bringing resources together in a way that hasn’t been particularly productive in the past.
Alternatively, councils could make a shared commitment to bring budget together to pump prime an incumbent or a new supplier. This though would almost certainly mean paying twice for a while whilst the new system is developed.
I’m not convinced either of the above are going to happen soon though. In the meantime, we must try to procure as well as we can, and try to hold suppliers to the standards we set ourselves for our own services.