Smart use of technology as part of a digital transformation effort is leading to better citizen engagement at Pendle Borough Council, claims the Town Hall.
In headline terms that’s translating to a lot more use of online services by its 90,000 residents, says its website co-ordinator, Kathryn Halton - and for her boss Dean Langton, Chief Executive of Pendle Borough Council, that also means:
We have seamless processing of requests, real time data and transparency, which makes a world of a difference to the residents of our Borough.
For example, since the introduction of its new system the total number of physical visits by Council Tax payers to its contact centre has dropped from an average of 2,000 per month up to August of last year to less than 100. Pendle has also seen the amount of snail mail it has to put out concerning its revenues and benefits work cut in a similarly dramatic fashion - by 50% between March 2017 and March of this year.
All that’s down to more service users opting to use online self-service, says Halton, adding that in 2016 only 17% of interactions with residents was via cyberspace - a figure that’s now shot up to 51%.
Striking numbers: but what makes the rapid leap this small Lancastrian council’s making into e-government even more notable is the fact that it has a relatively high digital exclusion indicator of five, which means it ranks as ‘medium' on the scale of citizen ability to access basic online products and services.
For Halton, accessibility is a key metric in terms of judging the success - or not - of Pendle’s achievement, as,
Digital exclusion is a really important measurement to keep in mind when on a digital journey. It’s all well and good developing digital services and processes, but customers have to be able to use them. But our channel shift figures are looking pretty good. We know we’re going in the right direction. And another interesting stat is that when we look month-by-month at who is accessing our site and how, we’re about 61% access now by mobile and tablet.
Halton told diginomica government that Pendle has embraced digital so aggressively due to perceived user demand for more effective service delivery, which could only work if any new online services her team offered were “efficient and effective”.
Halton says that when the decision was taken to move more services online, she drew a lot of her initial inspiration from what she saw being achieved at the central government level with the rebuild of Whitehall’s main website:
I’d followed the progress of GOV.UK with a lot of interest, and sort of modelled a content strategy based on the work [the team there] was doing.
But there was still a lot of work that needed to be done, she admits:
We had a lot of online forms on the front end, so customers could at least request services from us - but we didn't have a digital strategy or overall game plan: once customers hit ‘send’, the digital experience ended, and the human interaction one began. Forms went around the authority as emails, and there was a lot of rekeying. There was no integration at all with the backend and no workflow put in place.
Halton also told us there were numerous links at the back end to inefficient and hard-to-use third party systems which needed to bd swapped out. There was also, she states, a complete lack of integration between the council’s online forms package and online payments system.
Finally, there was no online account for the customer, so no way for them to find out what had happened once they had completed a form. All this inefficiency only started to go away, she believes, once the council implemented a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system which has to not just better link that disconnected front and back office, but which could also give service users the ability to transact online, track service requests and receive automated notifications when service statuses changed.
That’s been achieved via use of software called Continuum CXM (Customer Experience Management) from a supplier called Jadu, which was selected and implemented with the aid of its implementation partner, Liberata, with which it has been working since 2005.
For Halton, this CRM platform was an attractive solution for the authority, as its underling design philosophy meant she and her team could quickly become productive:
For the first service we developed, for Bulky Waste, [the company] did most of the development and our staff watched, learned and got involved a little bit - but for the second, Garden Waste, our staff took on more of the development work and worked with Jadu.
“That’s the beauty of a low-code platform. We have the power, knowledge and skills to develop and deploy - vital for councils with limited budgets. We want to encourage as many people as possible to use our online services.
So what are the next steps in this local government digital transformation Odyssey? For Halton, it has to be more of the same - getting more and more of the council’s work done digitally by preference:
We want to look at delivering the next set of high volume service requests - so things such as gardening services and pest control services. We also want to ensure that two-way communication is automated as far as possible - that service updates are pushed from our internal systems back out to the customer.
We also want to look at our internal processes where there are escalations based around time and workflows or complaints processes, for example managing subject access request for GDPR, Freedom of Information requests and that sort of thing.
We want to encourage as many people as possible to use our online services. We recognise that for some of our customers that could be difficult, so we want to continue to tackle digital exclusion as well.