Our Digital Council

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council used the grant funding from the LGA to bridge a skills gap in our digital project. This case study forms part of our productivity experts resource.

Efficiency and income generation

While it had the ICT and customer service expertise to introduce a new customer portal, forms package and CRM lite, the council did not have staff resources to carry out business process re-engineering works to transform back office functions to fully enable end-to-end transactions online. The money received funded the introduction of business analyst expertise from customer portal provider JADU who led initial re-engineering processes and trained staff to develop their skills in this area to ensure future sustainability.

The challenge

There were three main challenges facing the council as it contemplated trying to encourage a greater take-up of online services whilst at the same time improving the customer journey.

The first was establishing political and management buy-in.

Significant transformation is envisaged as part of the council’s digital journey and the impact on services will be far-ranging. As well as continuing to deliver “the day job” they would also be expected to support the digital project team as they look to provide more parts of the service online – and with processes which require little or no human interventions.

Without the support and expertise of staff who know services inside out this would make the project much more difficult.

And although the council is not supporting “digital by default” but rather “digital by design”, there may be occasions when services which could previously be accessed in a number of different ways by residents are streamlined with a greater focus on self-serve digital.

This can be a challenge for elected members and therefore it was essential they supported all facets of the project.

The second was identifying resources linked to procurement.

The third was how to change a paper-based culture within the organisation.

The solution

Through a series of one-to-one discussions and briefings we were able to recruit two key champions who would stand-up and support us in the months and years ahead – the leader of the council and the chief executive.

Over a period of time they were persuaded of the arguments for a greater focus on digital delivery of services to those who wanted to access them in this way and that message gradually spread throughout the council.

This culminated in formal reports to both cabinet and the executive management team where support for the digital project really began to take off.

This was cemented with a management conference where all managers within the council were formally invited to a launch of the “Our Digital Council” project in the council chamber with key speakers including the leader of the council.

With the executive management team on board, they appointed the executive director for resources and support services – who has the finance team in his directorate – to chair a group tasked with moving the project forward.

We also benefited from making contacts with neighbouring councils – in particular Lichfield District Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council – who were embarking on the same path as us with the same product.

This was a hugely important step and the support of colleagues at these two authorities – and Lichfield in particular – helped us trim many hundreds of hours off a procurement process which in turn resulted in a dramatic speeding up of our own journey.

Through working alongside partners we were able to benefit from a procurement framework which enabled us to meet financial regulations with a quality product but with months taken out of the process.

Our third challenge involved putting a framework in place so that staff would recognise the journey that we intended to embark upon and how we could not simply try to bolt paper-driven services on to a shiny, digital front end.

To support this, the council has adopted a Digital Vision and also a Digital Strategy – both are attached to this report.

These documents set out the framework that the council is to work to and give staff the outline of how we intend to transform services and move forward.

While we have established guidance and guidelines, we are under no illusions that winning over the hearts and minds of services will still be a challenge in the weeks and months ahead.

Most processes at the council are paper-driven and where possible we will change these.

And even those which do have a digital front end – such as the current form for reporting a missed bin collection – do not go end-to-end because once the resident has completed a form it has to be re-keyed by a customer services agent before going to the service.

Removing this human intervention from processes is one of the key goals of our project.

The impact

The council has identified its biggest customer volume service area – recycling and waste – as the first area for attention.

We have used business analyst support from JADU to organise workshops with the service where we have plotted out improvements to the online customer journey for all service requests ranging from missed bin collections to ordering new containers to bulky waste collections.

These enhanced processes should improve the online journey for the customer and remove human interventions as much as possible.

These changes are due to come into action in the autumn of 2018.

The council has a work programme in place which outlines the order in which the digital team is to work with services and develop their online presence.

In the current financial year, a savings target of £50,000 has been included in the council’s budget which was agreed by full council in March 2018.

How is the new approach being sustained?

As we said at the outset, the council recognised a skills deficit around business process re-engineering via business analyst support.

We have procured this from JADU as part of our agreement with them and a member of staff from the Business Improvement and Partnerships Team at the Council has been shadowing the specialists so that when they leave we have a member of staff who can take this on and work with our services.

In addition, the council has established a digital delivery board which will oversee the work programme as it develops, identify funding issues and solutions and oversee the delivery of savings.

Day-to-day work is being undertaken by a digital delivery team and this involves taking some staff out of previous roles and allocating duties to the digital project.

The team is being led on a full-time basis by a customer services manager supported by an ICT project manager, two ICT staff (on a part-time basis) and two customer services staff.

The head of communications is also involved on a part-time basis to support changes in content and the development of the forms which will enable customers to “self-serve” in an improved and more widespread way.

Lessons learned

A “coalition of the willing” is how we would describe our partnership approach with two neighbouring councils – Lichfield District Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

We have also extended this recently to take in Birmingham City Council. All of us are working with JADU and there have been significant benefits already.

Our council has benefited from the Lichfield procurement process which saved huge amounts of officer time at our authority.

The council has carried out an assessment of how much was saved in terms of costs related to officer time.

This has been done by detailing what work was carried out by sharing with the Lichfield process; the number of hours devoted to this work and the hourly rates of the officers involved.

The council has then considered what it feels would have been involved if it had gone through the market research, procurement, evaluation and contractual processes on its own.

We believe sharing in the Lichfield process secured a notional “officer time” saving of at least £29,850.

Moving forward, the council has now established an informal user group with its partners with the aim of sharing lessons learned on work already undertaken as well as future development commitments to ensure there is no duplication of effort.

Joining forces with other councils has been a key part of our learning and it has worked extremely well for us so far with the promise of much, much more to come.

We have also worked really hard to generate corporate buy-in. As well as talking to directors, heads of services and business managers we have attended team briefings to discuss the work with staff directly involved.

We have also cast our nets wide to involve staff as widely as possible in the workshops which have been organised to look at the business processes around customer inter-actions and how our new forms should try to improve and streamline these to improve the customer journey.

And most of all we have learnt from partners – including attendance at JADU Academies which are completely free – that testing, testing and testing again with users is absolutely vital if we are to make this process work for our customers in a way which enables them to benefit from an improved service and the council to benefit from efficiency savings.

Contact

Phil Jones
Head of Communications
01782 742271 / phil.jones@newcastle-staffs.gov.uk

LGA contact

Grace Abel
Productivity Advisor
07825 726273 / grace.abel@local.gov.uk