Public Sector Focus

04.01.17

Spearheading digital and structural change

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) recently won Socitm’s Innovation Award for its ‘Right Here Right Now’ programme. Alan Evans, head of transformation, and Maryvonne Hassall, computer services manager at the local authority, give PSE an update on the work and future development plans.

Like many local authorities in the UK, AVDC has been under increasing pressure to deliver operational efficiencies. But over the last 18 months, the council, as part of its Right Here Right Now programme, has delivered a number of innovative projects, including the redesign of its website and the internal intranet system and the creation of the popular, award-winning Aylesbury Vale My Account online portal. 

AVDC’s head of transformation, Alan Evans, told PSE that prior to the work the local authority operated in quite a “traditional” format, with most people contacting the organisation via telephone. 

But as many people now expect to be able to transact with organisations 24/7, Evans and his team looked at how they could make this happen. “It wasn’t just about being digital,” he said. “It was about our whole approach to integrating with our customers. 

“So we looked at what channels people were expecting, and had a programme that looked completely at how we did business. We also wanted to create a digital offering that would almost become a local government Amazon site, allowing you to look at previous transactions and deal with the organisation like you do with Amazon.” 

As well as providing an enhanced digital offering, the team also wanted to deliver a revamped website that was fit for purpose. In order to do this, AVDC soon realised that multiple partners would be required to deliver its ambitions. 

Working collaboratively, the council appointed Orange Bus to create a strategy to get to the heart of what the people of Aylesbury Vale – and those visiting – wanted and needed, informing the design and build of an effective council website. 

Aylesbury Vale My Account 

AVDC also worked with Arcus Global to develop its popular Aylesbury Vale My Account, which now has over 17,000 registrations from residents and businesses across the Vale. 

Maryvonne Hassall, computer services manager at AVDC, who spearheaded much of the implementation, noted that people can now log on and see a lot of the information relating to them in real time. 

“For instance, they can see when benefits are due and the amounts associated with those,” she said. “On the council tax side, they can see their latest information and can pay. They can also send in changes of information requests digitally as well. 

“We have also done quite a lot around the taxi licensing space, and all the applications are now processed digitally. The majority of waste services are also digital.” 

In the early days of the programme and the move towards digital services, concerns were raised about disadvantaging those who did not have internet access. But Evans noted that AVDC has been trying to reduce unnecessary contact with the local authority to free up more time to deal with important enquiries. 

“When we looked at the figures locally, more than 90% of our population had access to the web either through fixed internet connection or mobile devices,” he said.

“Our argument has been that it [the programme] would allow us to service our unconnected parts of the population better, because we would be dealing with less failure demand from the rest of the population. 

“As we developed a platform used by our customers and staff alike, it made us rethink the way we were delivering services.” 

c. V4 Services edit© V4 Services

Internal reconfiguration 

Evans noted that as a traditional authority, AVDC had been organised with lots of internal specialists, including planning, environmental health, and housing, to deal with customers. 

“But to the customer it didn’t look like that, they were just dealing with the council,” he said. “However, as we started using the same system as them, it became much more apparent and logical for us to restructure ourselves internally and that we had one team dealing with customers, especially with the vast majority of transactions moving online.” 

He added that AVDC now has a frontline customer service function that helps people transact online, and deals with the simpler queries. 

“We then have a specialist group who deal with the complex cases,” he said. “We have merged all our customer-facing services into one group we call Customer Fulfilment, which has allowed us to become much more efficient. That was a massive internal change programme driven by the digital programme.” 

New ways of working 

Hassall added that during the implementation process, optimising the website for mobile users was an “essential component”, as most people are using mobile devices to interact with the site. 

“We have also been using webchat quite heavily, and that can generate savings as people can deal with multiple webchats at once,” she said. “We will offer webchat out of traditional working hours, which has facilitated flexible working for the customer service team. The way we have integrated the phone system also allows them to work from home.” 

AVDC has focused heavily on embracing commercial techniques whilst improving its internal processes and efficiencies. As businesses move rapidly into the digital era, the council has also embraced new and innovative options available in a bid to reduce costs. 

Evans added that the local authority, which has been able to achieve impressive savings of £4m over a five-year period, is looking to integrate some of its services with Amazon Echo, moving to voice operating services in the future.

“We are hopeful to have a proof of concept by January,” he said. “In a sense, it is experimental for us. But we have a mobile app that allows people to see what bins need to be put out each week; we think this could then be voice operated and would be convenient to some customers.” 

In late November, AVDC hosted its third ‘Surviving to Thriving’ conference, where it demonstrated to other councils across the country how local authorities can go from ‘bankruptcy to brilliance in 100 days’ using techniques it has adopted. 

After becoming the first council in the country to move its entire IT infrastructure to the Cloud, Hassall said: “We are talking with a lot of councils about how we could help them to make the transition. Some are at the very beginning of that programme and are looking to move to Cloud whereas others are further along and are looking at processes.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.aylesburyvaledc.gov.uk

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