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Local GDS – a disruptive responsibility for leadership

September 30, 2014

Local Government digital needs more pace. It also needs a disruptive approach to the supply chain.

Otherwise it will carry on getting just a little bit better every year and carry on duplicating costs. Becoming radically better very quickly and driving out substantive costs is not going to happen with the current ways of working.

My experience comes from being part of two local digital steering groups. At the LocalGovDigital steering group with Carl Haggerty, Phil Rumens and others we discussed the excellent ideas that people have but everyone raised concerns about how much you can do from volunteers. Capacity is the issue.

At the GDS Local Dashboards steering group with Matt Harrington, Kate Sahota and others we discussed the pace at which we can move, the big transformative ideas we have – but GDS is focussed on Central Government. Capacity is the issue.

A Local GDS could provide that capacity. But there is something much bigger that a Local GDS could do.

Big disruptive opportunity

Local Authorities keep buying digital systems from the same suppliers. A few write something with Open Source, but even fewer manage to share that widely. There’s a reason why a single web site for local government wouldn’t work, though.

To understand this, you need to understand the business culture of a Local Authority. They are

– Single Legal entities

– Governed by Locally elected councillors

– Address Local issues

– Make Local Decisions

They also procure business solutions by looking at their local needs first and assessing the market against their requirements. It’s hard to mandate a local authority to do anything. Its best that they to want to.

So a Local GDS needs to create a value proposition that Local Authorities would want. The disruptive potential rests in the value proposition.

The Value Proposition

If there was an Open Source web content management solution, backed by a Local GDS and continuously developed by a community of Local Authority digital enthusiasts – it would be a compelling proposition for any authority.

Enthusiasts like the Digital Makers at Local Gov Digital would contribute to its development, we agreed.

When an authority chose to replace its web solution it would find an offer from Local GDS that was the most affordable, had the best roadmap for development and was the most well suited to their requirements.

Most Local authorities would be unable to not procure such a solution.

Over time it would become the standard. And sharing would follow inevitably. If any council develops a solution for a specific challenge, it becomes absorbed into the Local GDS product, supported and made available to every council in the “club”. Free of charge.

Local is not just about Local Government. Local GDS should also support other local public service organisations, particularly third sector. More and more local delivery will be jointly delivered and Local GDS would recognise and respond to that.

Deep Digital

The front end of a web site accounts for just 20% of Digital costs. The bigger costs are in integrating with line of business systems, so that the user experience is a seamless interaction with the authority. As authorities develop deep solutions with Local GDS, they will make these available as well. Driving deeper and deeper into the digital infrastructure. This creates the opening for a business architecture that disrupts the stranglehold that a few suppliers have over the sector.

Next big thing

Right now the Care Act is creating new digital challenges. Across the country councils are scurrying about to find digital solutions. They are re-inventing and duplicating effort – imagine if a Local GDS existed now. It would be commissioning solutions that could be deployed with minimum fuss and little cost to all authorities who chose to be part of it. We have probably missed the opportunity to create LGDS in time for the Care Act. But there will be another big thing. Let’s get ready for that.

Leadership responsibility

Every Local Authority has done something well with Digital. No authority has done everything well! But if we put all the good bits together, we will deliver a substantially better Digital experience to our users at a substantially reduced cost.

In a time of austerity, Local GDS, or something like it, is not just a good idea. It’s a responsibility.



  1. This is a really good post Steve and I agree there is a major capacity issue around this…I also believe this is a significant leadership challenge for those in the sector..

    I can agree that a proposition needs to be created and essentially sold back to the sector and that is something that will need to be developed in partnership with those people passionate about moving this agenda forward and I would hope colleague at GDS could be part of those conversations as well given their knowledge and experience.

    My “gut” feeling is that local councils will all move at different speeds and that is ok to a point, however those wishing to actively move faster and more importantly recognise this – they need to be connected so that opportunities can be created which takes this further forward, away from talking, to doing and sharing.

    Perhaps the aspiration to solve the whole sector will need wait and we should focus our efforts on those who at this moment in time “want” to be part of it.

    • Nice post Steve.

      It’s funny watching these discussions between Local vs. Central GDS.

      If we know that “The front end of a web site accounts for just 20% of Digital costs”. Then we know that the major work to be done is “on the network”, and agreeing upon the collaborative services which both central, and local, GDS teams want to share.

      Seems Phil and the local guys have “their” idea of what the “pipeline” should look like.

      Now, if we can only get some agreement with the central guys.

  2. Thanks for being invited to comment via Twitter. This response is my personal view.
    I fully support the sentiment and aspirations behind the suggestion for Open Source LG web content management but what this means requires fleshing out. After all, there are already well-established Open Source CMS’s out there globally. There is definitely scope for LA’s to co-operate in terms of both content (i.e. this is how a particular process works and the legislation surrounding it) and in terms of interactive functionality, e.g. applying for planning permission, reporting street lamp failure / potholes /etc. Indeed, there are some apps out there for that sort of purpose.

    In principle, this could extend to more complex functions such as social care account applications including self-assessment. However, in my experience LA’s have not been very effective in sharing real materials in the past – this always presents some overhead for hard-pressed staff judged on what they deliver locally and there is other cultural reluctance, it seems.

    Perhaps some national resource to facilitate can make all the difference.
    By the way, the key issue for the Care Act is handling the increase in volume of enquiries and assessments from late 2015 when elderly self-funders (and particularly, their working age inheritors) start applying for Care Accounts as a form of insurance against catastrophic costs. It should not be too late to develop self-service tools for that but we will have to work with existing commercial suppliers who have a range of products / tools which may need to be integrated with other corporate approaches.

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