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'Technology is vital for councils to compete commercially'

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In these pages we’ve previously examined how a single digital platform can open a new world of external commercial opportunities for revenue and income, merely by thinking laterally, and combining that thinking with enabling technologies.

The same principles can easily be applied to the internal trading activities of the council, an area where local authorities have often been woefully uncompetitive against private sector rivals. A great example of this would be in education, where a council’s IT department will attempt to sell products, services, and software and hardware bundles to its schools and colleges.

It is surprising how many councils are still trading with their schools and colleges through paper-based catalogues, providing bespoke quotes distributed by e-mail – or even fax – to prospective customers.

By contrast, a digital trading platform can enable portal-based trading, using competitive quotes from partner businesses, assembled in a shopping basket and distributed promptly via an electronic channel.

Quotes, instead of disappearing into the fax machine, can be automatically resent if there has been no inbound follow up within 48 hours and discussion with the customer to see if their quote needs amending to suit budget or other requirements.

Marketing and communications channels are open in real time allowing special offers and promotions tailored to each customers’ type and buying patterns to be mass distributed as soon as they become available, or before the start of a new term or new pupil intake.

Machine learning and AI can be used to identify what is selling well and what isn’t, and for the profiling the commercial sector already does. These principles apply equally well to packages of services as they do to hardware or software purchases. For instance: “Schools who bought new Wi-Fi hubs, also bought a firewall health check audit.”

The use of these emerging technologies with sales and marketing practices commonplace in the private sector is enabling councils’ trading services to compete effectively against their online rivals.

This is just one example of where technology and lateral thinking can prove a game-changer in allowing councils to trade and compete with the private sector as equals. Once implemented, the digital platform gives much deeper insight into the needs and spending patterns of businesses, institutions and individuals – whatever channel they contact the council through.

Ian Robson, business development manager, Pythagoras

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