Cassandra Phillip 26 March 2019

In perfect partnership: how councils can get the most out of a tech provider

In local government, digitisation of systems can sometimes be viewed as disruptive, can require significant investment, and there’s often a perception that it can lead to a great deal of extra work for all involved.

But the implementation process doesn’t have to have a fear-factor for local authorities. In June last year, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council (LBBD) were looking for a new case management system which could reduce the administrative burden impacting its school admissions teams. The council was operating with a minimum six-week backlog during the Sept/Oct period, and also found that our existing technology provider, who we’d been working with for over five years, had become unresponsive.

The new case management system that we chose, Synergy from Servelec, was installed and fully functioning after just four weeks. It immediately enabled much closer communication between us and schools. We could see the interaction and the immediacy between us and schools, and we loved it.

The system has been designed to help local authorities to support families more effectively by spanning the full education and child services spectrum. It has already proved to be a vast improvement on the existing system, based on the 87% increase in applications received between July 2017-Jan 2018 vs July 2018-Jan 2019. We’ve now managed to reduce the back log by four weeks. LBBD has come forward in leaps and bounds.

So, how can councils can work with technology providers to achieve a smooth implementation? Here’s what you should look for:

Experience, support and reassurance

When looking for a supplier, experience is everything. Historically, LBBD had been part of the Pan-London Register, where all London authorities have adopted the same system. The admissions element of this system was no longer fit for our requirements, so we got to know a few local authorities who used both different and similar systems to us. Synergy had been highly praised as the flagship solution, which ultimately was reflected in the impartial decision taken at the procurement process.

Throughout the implementation process, there were a whole team of consultants who were able to offer advice, guidance and continued reassurance throughout the very short implementation period.

Ability to be flexible

Every local authority has its own nuances and idiosyncrasies around the way they work and manage projects, and our tech provider was fully accepting of that and accommodated our working style.

Of course, the tech needs to be flexible too… our new system has the ability to ensure In-year applications can be made online, and that data is downloaded into the local authorities without the need for re-keying information. Outcomes are sent to parents effortlessly and securely, again without the manual process of producing letters, which are then automatically saved to the child’s individual file without further work for the admissions officer.

Potential to future-proof

For most local authorities, when we make an investment in technology, we want to see ROI. We also want to see a clear potential for future development, and most importantly, the potential for interoperability. When making any technological purchase, these key aspects need to be considered.

Although admissions sit independently at LBBD, the council are also using the new case management system within the EHC team and family information services, so multiple information can be brought together, creating a single view of the child.

Our relationship with Servelec is now going one step further as we want to collaborate with them to evolve the system to ensure it responds even more intuitively to users’ requirements.

Developing a partnership, rather than a transactional relationship with suppliers and vendors, particularly those in the tech sector, will, in my opinion, create a support network for local authorities, ensuring we purchase, implement, and develop the best tech for our requirements.

Cassandra Phillip is admissions project manager, school admissions team, at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council.

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