IT links could be council saviour

Some local government bodies might be saved from dire financial straits by increased collaboration on IT and communications technology, says Bob Vine, head of industry body Local Government Online.

Some local government bodies might be saved from dire financial straits by increased collaboration on IT and communications technology, says Bob Vine, head of industry body Local Government Online.

Vine claims to know of at least one council that’s probably technically insolvent. As an expensive but necessary move to discharge some of the requirements of last year’s Local Government Act for increased consultation with the public, IT should be a target for collaborative cost saving by councils, he says. LGOL’s mission is to encourage just such collaboration.

Local government IT is progressing apace, with collaborative moves in website content management and towards providing for transactions and automatic payments online.

LGOL is planning a common online payment framework to be offered to councils for incorporation on their websites or on a central content management platform it already provides.

Evolution of the automatic payment module will probably take about another six months, he says. A supplier has not yet been chosen.

It is a long-established “myth” that only one council takes rates and other payments by online credit card, says Vine, speaking at a meeting on local government IT organised by the NZ Computer Society. In the sense of providing the facility directly, that’s true, he says, but a number of councils hook into the internet payment facilities offered by their banks: “I found on logging in to my ASB service, ‘Upper Hutt City Council payment’ was on a drop-down menu.”

The common content management platform, using Microsoft’s Content Management System, has been set up on a rental basis with software developer Intergen, and is available to councils for $55 a month. By contrast, Vine says, one council has opted to license the Microsoft product outright, for a six-figure sum.

Within the next two weeks, 30 councils will be putting pointers to their services on the central government portal. This is the culmination of a complex exercise in defining the services councils offer and setting up appropriate meta data.

Vine says LGOL’s efforts have much in common with those of the State Services Commission’s e-government unit, with the important difference that LGOL has less control over what councils do than the SSC has over central government agencies.

LGOL has its e-procurement counterpart to central government’s GoProcure, itself the source of some friction over the degree to which government could compel its agencies to adopt the system.

The local government equivalent, LGOL-Procure, ran into its own problems over financial justification. Provided by Auckland company Edis, it was originally offered to councils for a low fee and a projection of payback in six months from savings. However, says Vine, when councils realised those savings included back-office integration with employee redundancies — delicately called “reduction in FTEs [full-time-equivalents]” — they demurred. The new LGOL-Procure budget has councils paying $4000 plus GST for access to the product.

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