BCP Council is using Microsoft Power Apps to put the capability for developing digital services into the hands of its employees.
When the council formed three years ago from the amalgamation of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole local authorities, it inherited multiple departments focused on paper-based processes and legacy IT systems and it was clear a fresh, digital-led approach was required.
Alongside the introduction of a Microsoft enterprise software stack, BCP Council is using Power Apps to streamline labour-intensive administrative tasks, audit services, and broaden the digital skills of its staff. Neil Poulton, Head of Development at BCP Council, says this council-wide approach gives employees the opportunity to develop their own low-code solutions to business challenges and has been more successful than a top-down approach to digitization:
It's enabled us to automate and create processes that we weren't able to do before without traditional development, offices and tooling, or third-party support. It’s also allowing the organization to get the best financial return from its technical implementations. Rather than having three providers and just using a bit of each, we’ve decided Power Apps is the chosen route and we’re investing heavily.
The decision to go with Power Apps was prompted by a couple of key factors. First, the council is already invested in the Microsoft stack. It uses Dynamics CRM and is about to implement Dynamics ERP. Second, as a relatively new unitary authority, the council faced a range of software challenges – and Power Apps was seen as a way to cut system complexity. According to Poulton:
We've got to go through an application rationalization programme. We're going to use the technology to streamline processes across the legacy systems and rationalize some of the applications by rebuilding using the Power Platform stack.
Poulton's team created a business case for depreciating some of the council’s lower-lying, bespoke applications through the Power Apps platform:
It's all happened in the last 18 months. The business case was based on providing cost-efficient solutions, application rationalization, and we believed Power Apps gave us the flexibility we were looking for.
The council has already deployed 48 Power Apps. These cover internal business areas, including staff recognition, fire-incident reporting, and the risk register. Public-facing services have also received the Power Apps treatment, including beach hut waiting lists and applications for holiday activities for children who receive free school meals. Poulton explains:
It allows us to turn around applications quickly. It’s also got a create-once-and-use-many-times methodology. Once you've got an integration into a payment engine or another system, you can just re-use that code across other applications that you need to create, rather than having to develop everything in a bespoke manner.
One of the council’s key Power Apps successes is its Facilities Management Request function. Facilities has used Power Apps to move an unwieldy paper-based service to a single app in Microsoft Teams. New starters can use the facilities app to upload a photo, receive an ID pass, and ensure door-entry systems are updated. Employees can also use the facilities app to order items, report issues and find emergency contacts.
According to Poulton, the digitization of services through Power Apps is a big shift that’s creating positive results:
Previously, people were using telephones, emails, Outlook, and spreadsheets. We've brought all those disparate points and tiers of authorization together. For example, if someone wants to have access to a specific room in a building, that's now controlled by a workflow in the app, rather than going off to a manager for approval, and waiting for them to come back and amend your details.
We are the champions
Introducing Power Apps has required a large amount of cultural change. Poulton’s team has had to dedicate time and effort into ensuring Microsoft’s broader software suite and Power Apps are used and adopted. The key to success has been the creation of a change agent program, where 400 digital advocates – known as champions – have been drawn from all parts of the council to share their Microsoft-based learnings with colleagues. Poulton says:
They have a Teams collaborative area where they can bounce off each other and they can share ideas and problems. We also have a third party who comes in and provides half-an-hour themed workshops. We’ve invested heavily. There's been a few advocates and ambassadors out there and they've kind of led by example.
As BCP Council employees became more adept at using the Microsoft tools, it was recognised that they could potentially use the drag-and-drop app-creation templates of Power Apps to design their own solutions to organisational challenges. The champions played a key role in turning this low-code method of software development into a success story, explains Poulton:
We've implemented a center of excellence at the core for governance. First-line support is provided by the champions; second line is the service desk, who deal with read permissions and access. The third line is traditional support in IT. The result is a safe playground for our people to develop and publish within the local area.
The drive behind not limiting the user base’s software development ambitions is a recognition that they might use shadow IT to complete jobs if they’re not given access to the right tools. The apps that business users create are checked by IT for governance before going into production, adds Poulton:
We’re saying, 'Go and be creative and share your ideas’. We do apply governance around licensing, permissions and branding when they want to go outside of their specific business areas.
BCP Council continues to invest in Power Apps training, such as ensuring its champions are up to speed on fresh governance concerns. Poulton says BCP Council also wants to share the apps it develops with other councils through GitHub to drive collaboration and further efficiencies:
My vision with GitHub is to share best practice and code base that others can re-use. Also we can then use other people’s work, so we don't have to start from scratch – and they might give us some insight into a better way of doing things. Their insights and knowledge might help us be better at what we do as well.