The way people search for information, recommendations and data has changed beyond all recognition since the days when the Yellow Pages directory or Thomson Local was the first reference point. So too has the ‘need for speed’ with customers and users expecting instant access to the information they require, from their phone, tablet and computer. The rapid pace of technology means that new business apps are becoming available on an almost weekly basis with one of the fastest growing areas being location-based services, powered by Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Location based services (LBS) is not just for the local coffee shop, restaurant or gym; it also offers some interesting opportunities for government agencies and is being adopted by several UK local authorities.
Route Optimisation: One of the largest areas where savings can be made is in route optimisation for services such as school transport and waste collection. Harrow Borough Council for example made savings of £3.2M on improved waste management services, East Riding of Yorkshire Council saved over £1m by improving school transport in a rural area and Cardiff City Council made efficiency savings of over £1.3m from better route and vehicle management in the transportation of children with special educational needs*.
Tourist Attractions & Other Facilities: The investment required in technology to operate LBS has perhaps been a problem for local authorities in the past but this is no longer the case. Free tools offered by the likes of Foursquare make LBS accessible to all. With 30 million users worldwide and 1 million business locations, at the very least local councils should register their venues, offices and contact details. The trip functionality on Foursquare enables visitors to promote a) their visit and b) what they particularly like about the venue via Facebook and Twitter. So local authorities gain valuable information on visitor numbers, can monitor feedback from real users, publicise special offers, promotions and rewards and at the same time, they benefit hugely from the word of mouth marketing of actual users of their services. Brighton & Hove Council declared 6 November, Foursquare Day for their local libraries. Everyone who checked in from a library on that day was entered into a competition to win a free audio-visual library subscription.
Collaboration: Local government can play a crucial role in the development of location-based technology by making the wealth of information collected by agencies available to developers. Street closures, business names, public transport, and other items of data are goldmines for entrepreneurs and app creators. Over 40 councils submitted entries in the 2012 O2 Future Fund* initiative to find the UK’s most innovative local authority IT teams. Luton Borough Council was awarded £50,000 for their Access to Luton project which will redefine the council’s services to and relationship with, their customers. Some local governments sponsor forums or meetings to connect the people who have data with the people who need it, as well as discussing the future of location technology and how it can be used to benefit the community. Give out notepads and printed pens with your contact info to ensure that busy, creative developers can find you again.
Mapping: Nottingham City Council has made a commitment to provide access to location-based information to residents, visitors, local authority staff, partner organisations and businesses*. From their website, visitors can: report a problem such as damage to trees or playgrounds, highways issues or fly tipping requiring council attention; find information on services and facilities near to where they live; read the council’s energy policy and use their ‘Energy Calculator’ to reduce energy bills, find their nearest polling station and use the ‘gritting routes and grit bins’ app to view which roads and pedestrian areas are due to be gritted in the event of snow and ice.