Why better connections are critical to local authorities

By Martin McFadyen - Head of Public Sector, Virgin Media Business

In March 2020, local authorities had to make changes in weeks that would normally have taken months or years. 

To keep employees and citizens safe, they speedily introduced hybrid working – a mix of remote and office-based work. Now there’s no going back. 

63% of public sector organisations say hybrid working will be here to stay after Covid-19. 

Their employees seem to agree.

88% of all the public sector workers who worked at home during lockdown said they would like that flexibility to continue

This makes connectivity crucial. Authorities have to ensure that employees can collaborate and communicate using the apps already invested in at all times, supporting the needs of the community. 

Before the pandemic, connectivity was already emerging as a basic human right.

The Universal Service Obligation stated that as of March 20th 2020 anybody living without access to a “decent and affordable connection” can request an upgrade, with a minimum download speed of 10Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 1Mbps. 

Levelling up starts here

Connectivity is a key tool in the government’s aim to ‘level up’ the nation by providing next-generation fibre broadband to every home by 2025. 

The cross-party Local Government Association (LGA) comprises 335 councils across England and the 22 Welsh unitary councils. The LGA set up its Digital Shift Programme to support councils as they adopt new online tools and technologies and adapt to the shifting economic landscape. 

As LGA Digital Spokesperson Cllr Mark Hawthorne says, “Access to fast and reliable digital connectivity is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity. As place-shapers at the centre of their communities, councils have a fundamental role to play in helping enhance the digital connectivity of their local areas.”

To ensure that the government reaches their 2025 target, the LGA has suggested that each council recruit a local digital champion to help facilitate delivery and support providers to install gigabit-capable broadband as quickly as possible.

The Department for Digital Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) also suggests appointing a digital champion, who would be able to provide strategic leadership, engage with senior stakeholders and promote the adoption of policies, processes and practices. 

Throughout the move to more resilient connectivity, transparency is key. The DCMS suggests that although investment will be needed to upgrade legacy systems the benefits of the investment should be promoted. 

“For instance, it could highlight the significance of digital connectivity to the area and the social and economic benefits of connectivity.”

The economic argument

Research we recently commissioned from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) put some figures to the claim that connectivity could bring about economic benefits. 

Cebr’s work suggests that simply by continuing to invest in digital infrastructure projects local and central government and blue-light services could generate a £32bn boost towards UK GDP by 2040. 

And there is no one better placed to lead the digital revolution and connect citizens to providers. 

The publication ‘Government Business’ recently stated that if the UK as a whole is demanding Gigabit-speed full fibre then “The UK’s local authorities and district councils are ideally positioned to meet this demand. 

They already have access to the ducts, pipes and tunnels that are part of their civic infrastructure. A local authority can invest in and install full fibre in these ducts and pipes, which it can then monetise by launching its own services, or by leasing it to network operators and service providers at a healthy return rate – the so-called ‘open access’ model.”

A legacy of complexity

Despite the economic arguments, however, many local government organisations lack confidence in the strength of their infrastructure. They don’t believe it lets employees work remotely in a way that is secure or compliant with strict public service guidelines such as GDPR. 

In fact, 31% of organisations can’t introduce new workplace tools because their legacy IT infrastructure is simply too complex. 

Again, to put a figure to the problem, a statistic from Global Data suggested that as much as 64% of public sector IT spend is eaten up by legacy IT

The time has come for a flexible and agile way to enable connectivity with a different kind of network. 

The SD-WAN connection

While the public sector faces many challenges in embedding the changes of the past twelve months many of them can be turned into opportunities with the right network. 

Rather than grinding to a halt under the weight of complex, data-heavy demands and hybrid working, authorities can start to exploit new digital tools and technology and harness the power of the internet of things (IoT) to truly transform their regions. 

SD-WAN could be the springboard. It connects directly to the cloud from anywhere, without the ‘traffic jam’ effect of old-school infrastructure, so a local authority’s workforce is always close to the apps and data that it needs to access. 

Perfectly aligned to cloud and software as a service [SaaS] applications, SD-WAN brings next generation security features for complex data integrity and strict authentication rules. 

Everything works more quickly and reliably, which ultimately improves the user experience. 

Want to unleash the potential of the new connectivity and invest effectively in your digital future?