The body - which still holds the laurel for being Europe's largest local authority - has again chosen Leicester-based supplier Jadu as a partner in building the next stage of that vision.
That’s in the shape of a system that will allows residents of the Second City to track service requests in real time. The new platform, based on the vendor’s Jadu Continuum CXM (Customer Experience Management) and which is being styled as a city-wide ‘Digital Concierge’, will also pump out automated notifications to keep residents fully up to date about when their service status changes, ensuring everyone is kept fully up to date.
The vision is for it to be as easy to see where you are with a council service as you are when having your next Amazon delivery tracked, say the pair. And as a result, the Council is confident of more and more channel shift, as Council Tax payers start to see how much more effective digital services are than walk-ins or using its contact centre.
A great ambition - but one that can’t be achieved overnight, as it’s all going to be rolled out in phases, with Highways and Parks coming first in the next few weeks.
Still, it’s definitely a positive note, building on the council’s new website, birmingham.gov.uk (live since August 2016, and which also uses Jadu) - and which also signals a new approach to working with IT in the West Midlands, according to its recently installed Chief Information Office, Peter Bishop.
Bishop came into the Birmingham hot seat after a long stint as Director of Commercial and Change at nearby Worcestershire County Council, and so we asked him how he sees its role nine months in:
My responsibilities include leading, shaping and delivering technology-enabled change and digital delivery models to support the Council’s ambitions as a 21st Century Council.
And so why extend use of this smaller company’s tech, when Birmingham is still so famously a customer of Capita? This is where things get a tiny bit complicated. Bishop told us Continuum CXM was purchased through the existing framework it has with the service provider, which is still set to run until March 2012 (see below). However, it’s his team that is working directly with Jadu and it is council employees “leading the change and implementing” its functionality.
Aligns with Birmingham’s values
Was he not worried about the risk of placing so much responsibility on such a smaller company’s shoulders, though? Quite the reverse, it turns out:
Jadu is an SME, but it's been around for almost 20 years and has helped countless local and national government organisations in their digital transformations, so it has the maturity, stability, experience and knowledge required.
With regards to the benefit of working with an SME, in almost all cases the outcome proves value for money. Successful relationships with smaller companies rely on maturity of thinking and above all - trust. We trust that Jadu knows what it’s doing, and it trusts that we have the vision and leadership to support delivery.
But the move also, of course, has to be put into the context of Birmingham’s troubled history with big service companies, which culminated in the 2017 ending of its Service Birmingham contact with Capita three years early (see our report here).
That’s history lesson this public sector CIO is all too aware of:
Our website was replaced eight years prior to this current iteration, cost a significant amount of money and been subject to a significant amount of criticism.
There were a number of attempts to improve it, but it just didn’t work for the people of the city and was not value for money. Radical change was needed.
Some of this change had been taking place prior to his appointment.
There was a lot of stone turning and criticism after the last website, so to be certain the new website met people’s requirements there was considerable work to be done to make sure we were engaging as many people as possible - it was imperative that the people of Birmingham were involved every step of the way.
Better digital services on their way
Though the new approach to IT in the city may have started before his appointment, Bishop has definitely taken all this on board.
Before, there were huge projects that took long periods of time to deliver, by which time needs had moved on. This time, we are delivering based on outcomes and ensuring we measure results at every step, iterating and taking a more agile approach. We’re proving each stage, and are also ramping up our internal delivery capability significantly.
The key difference, though, is that we are now doing this in collaboration with customers and stakeholders, involving them in the design and test of digital services. This model has [already] proved itself with [the website, so we are building on a proven platform, with a proven methodology of collaboration and transparency, and with customers at the centre.
Given where we have been historically, you cannot understate the change in behaviour this signals nor the changes yet to come.
He is quite open about why he likes this more direct relationship with a smaller partner:
It’s a question of reputational risk and reward versus the old way of outsourcing, which is based more on contracts and less on value to citizens.
Jadu has a strong values based approach that centres on public services. - and that aligns with Birmingham's values.
Summing up the new spirit of public sector at IT at Birmingham, for Bishop the significance of the Digital Concierge is this:
This is one of the first customer-centred digital programmes delivered by the council. And the outcome for customers will be much improved 24/7 services from us.