Digital transformation a top priority for local government CEOs

Tuesday, 06 July, 2021

Digital transformation a top priority for local government CEOs

Local government CEOs have revealed the chaos as well as the surprising upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic on councils across Australia in a survey conducted by recruitment, advisory and technology consulting firm Davidson. The Australian Local Government CEO Index 2021 recorded the priorities of 110 council leaders in a post-COVID environment, highlighting the challenges, opportunities and strains that leaders face.

Clare McMartin, Davidson Managing Partner, Search and Advisory, noted that the Index also provides an opportunity to address the issues facing cities and communities, now and in the future.

“It is no understatement to say that the past 12-plus months have been the most tumultuous in living memory. This has especially been the case for the CEOs of local government navigating a social and administrative landscape that has been changing week by week since March last year,” said McMartin.

The Index found that CEOs had five national top priorities: digital transformation; community resilience and wellbeing; business confidence; risk confidence; and building a high-performance culture.

Shared services within digital transformation was a key focus for CEOs, with 68% saying their councils were using shared services with other councils and 86% saying they were committed to pursuing opportunities with other councils. While issues such as financial sustainability and employee wellbeing were impacted negatively, some areas saw a positive reaction as a result of COVID-19.

Residents were engaging more with councils and 44% of CEOs saw community engagement as a positive priority, as was technology (79% positive), as people internally and externally engaged digitally with council. CEOs were asked to priorities 36 key responsibilities for 2021 under the six identified key themes. These included employee wellbeing; technology; financial sustainability; community engagement; risk & governance; and operational excellence.

The survey was designed to get a better understanding of the CEOs’ post-COVID outlook and priorities for FY21 and beyond. Participation was evenly spread across regional and metropolitan locations. Justin Hanney, Chief Executive Officer of Melbourne City Council, noted that the extended lockdown and gradual recovery in Melbourne necessitated a focus on council fundamentals. These included ensuring service is maintained through digital transformation and positive customer experience, and that communities are given the support they need.

“The differences between metropolitan and regional governments are characterised by a significantly more serious financial impact for metro organisations, but more success in achieving positive outcomes in operational excellence and employee wellbeing,” said Hanney.

Kelly Grigsby, CEO of the City of Hobart and former CEO of Wyndham City Council, said 2020 forced the hand of leaders and ensured a move to flexible working and use of technology to undertake work. “People leaders who were dragging their feet or showing light support had no option but to adjust, and this ensured equity across the organisation,” said Grigsby.

The report highlighted that inside state borders, there were different priorities for different jurisdictions. In Victoria and Tasmania, financial sustainability was especially important, with alternative fund modelling within Victoria’s local governments well above average as a priority. In Tasmania, revenue forecasting and contingency planning were the top two priorities for all participants.

In Queensland and NSW, community wellbeing was a key issue, with leaders in both states also flagging community safety as a priority well above the national average. Meanwhile, 100% of participants in the Northern Territory listed digital transformation as a priority in technology. A key priority in South Australia was in the area of operational excellence, where service capability came in as a priority at double the national average. Community wellbeing was a key issue for Western Australian leaders, who flagged community safety as a priority well above the national average.

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