This needs to change if we are to meet the financial challenges
that have become the new normal after ten years of austerity – which
despite government promises that “the era of austerity is at an end”
will have real on-the-ground consequences for reduced public services
for years to come. This is particularly true for councils who have
been some of the hardest hit by budgetary, social and health related pressures.
Local government needs to focus its attention and funds on the
complex “wicked” problems that need systemic solutions
which harness the capacity and creativity of the local ecosystem. All
of the basic transactional services should be delivered by
well-designed digital services based on open standards, that remove
the need for councils to duplicate spend hundreds of times over.
This hasn’t been offered to councils yet – instead they’ve had to
choose between expensive packaged products that aren’t designed based
on user needs, or even more expensive investment in user research,
service design and development to build really great bespoke digital services.
Placecube’s Digital Place breaks this binary
choice apart and offers a combination of well-designed services, built
on user research with open standards, intended for easy adoption and
reuse, supporting sharing across councils. Rather than charging
premium prices to every council, making the public sector pay multiple
times for the same code, we have designed a subscription that gives
access to all of the service cubes designed and built with councils,
and keeps adding cubes for reuse. This frees councils to put their
limited funding into the activities that will really tackle the
complex social and economic challenges of their local area.
Evolving local government digital from bespoke to products + rental
“The simplicity of standard building blocks allows higher orders
of complexity. But those standard building blocks didn’t appear out
of nowhere, they started as something novel and they evolved.”
I spent some time thinking about the state of the local government
market for digital services recently, and used Simon Wardley’s mapping
approach to plot out what I’ve seen over the past five years or so. My
assessment is that, in general, councils are paying over and over
again for the same bespoke activities and duplicating the building of
solutions that really could be shared.
Recently we’ve seen other vendors making their pitches to the market
for reuse on so-called “common platforms”.
We often find ourselves nodding in agreement at the starting point of
these explanations – as they describe the laudable idea of finding
ways for cash-strapped councils to share solutions to common needs.
But all too soon these pitches take a familiar turn, one that I’ll
caricature as “buy this large lump of (our) expensive software in
order to share” – this is just lock-in by another name, and doesn’t
move us forward as a sector. Meaningful reuse of common solutions
can’t be dependent on an organisation’s adoption of an expensive
In contrast, Placecube’s Digital Places are containers that can be
quickly filled through a system of building with reusable cubes. Of
course we want people to buy from us – but we don’t want to be the
only company that provides cubes. The problems of a local ecosystem
will always need a wide range of organisations and communities to come
together to address them – more quickly than any single organisation
can do in isolation – and the data and solutions required need to be
able to work together to enable this to happen. That’s why we see open
standards as a critical element to this approach.
When we talk to digital leaders across the public sector they often
express their frustration that they can’t simply connect one system to
another, tap into a common data source with ease, and share services
across organisational boundaries without costly joint development to
break down barriers that suppliers have constructed. There is now a
growing resistance to purchasing opaque self-contained systems and
proprietary software right across local government, who instead of
being offered an alternative that meets their needs are increasingly
looking to themselves and opting to develop technologies and digital
services in-house, preferring to make the mistakes that can be fixed
openly rather than risk continued vendor lock-in, inflexibility and
For many vendors, who are struggling to adapt their business models
and practices, this has started to seriously impact their results but
this is perhaps the inevitable consequence of digital change once the
easy efficiency-by-squeezing approach has been all but used up.
Fundamental digital reinvention is upon us. In my next post, we will
look at a more detailed example of how an open standards based digital
service could be created that moves us further through product +
rental, towards commodity services, supporting a whole place approach
Beckett – Executive Director, Product Research &
This blog was originally posted on the Placecube
website where you can find out more about Digital Place.