A major review of the future of local government has delivered a stark warning about the scale of technical and cultural fixes required to make the sector's ICT systems future-fit.
An interim report from the Review into the Future of Local Government has found independent local ICT investment decisions have created a dispersed environment with little or no regard to interoperability or sharing of applications or platforms.
The report, "Ārewa ake te Kaupapa - Raising the platform", said the issue affected both back-office enterprise systems as well as customer-facing applications.
"We are concerned that the proliferation of systems and the lack of interoperability is impacting effectiveness and efficiency, and might also be a barrier to future integration opportunities, both data and otherwise," the report said.
"The different timetables of local authority ICT investment mean that combined investment does not occur."
In coming years, local authority ICT systems are likely to require significant investment to support the transition to new "three waters" and resource management systems, ensure better data security and to meet growing community expectations.
"This is likely to include a need for significant digitisation of council information," the report said. "In addition, effective responses to climate change will require councils to capture and share data at levels beyond current capacities."
Current systems of data collection, storage, security and retrieval varied widely and in many cases were not fit to manage future demands. This exposed local authorities, and the whole country, to "significant risks and unnecessary costs".
Central government had recognised the benefits of "joined-up" investment in systems and capabilities for information-sharing, digital identity and security, and to establish stronger evidence bases for decision-making and prioritisation.
Opportunities existed to extend this across the wider system to local government.
Adopting shared systems approaches at national or sub-national levels could take advantage of scale, increase efficiency, align and strengthen systems, address digital inequities across the country, and meet future needs.
"Apart from the potential cost benefts, we see gains in effectiveness and in presenting a unifed view both to, and for, the citizen," the authors wrote.
"We note that any system change must be matched by appropriate governance mechanisms and incentives for individual agencies to work collectively."
Future investment in enterprise systems should be made with regard to an accepted standard ICT architecture across local government so that over time there was alignment of systems.
A common architecture would ideally enable maximum flexibility across local and central government and enable decisions about function and form to be independent of any ICT system constraints.
"Central government is currently facing this issue as part of the health and vocational education reforms - there is an opportunity to learn from and potentially leverage off, any future investment decisions that seek to create a unifed ICT environment for these sectors."
Due to funding constraints, this should be explored in a partnership funding model between central and local government to find the investment "sweet-spot" where both effectiveness and effciency can be balanced. the review recommended.
There would be lessons to learn from Auckland Council’s ICT rationalisation process around what is needed to achieve large scale, complex but vital system change.
"In the short term, there should at the very least be an initial stocktake of existing systems and preparation of a roadmap for transition together with an appropriate business case," the review recommended.
"In addition, there is an opportunity for local government to work with the government chief digital officer to identify common opportunities and possible co-investment."