25 October 2019

Transforming citizen services with a front-to-back end digital platform

Always put the customers’ needs at the heart of the journey to obtain true transformation, says Caroline Croft, digital and ICT manager at St Albans City & District Council.

Q. What is your mission statement at St Albans City & District Council?

A. Last year, we focused on developing our new organisational values and behaviours. This put our residents firmly at the centre of our work, and reflects how we want our services to develop. Caring for our community, working together, and developing confident people are at the heart of this, and we have chosen these themes to help us become the truly trusted and service-driven council we aspire to be.

To keep us focused on our customers and what they tell us they want to see locally, we are structuring our work to support the delivery of the following key outcomes: a vibrant economy, a thriving community, a great place to live and work and a cost-effective council.

Q. What are some of the challenges you face as a council?

A. Our IT infrastructure was limiting our ability to make the progress required to realise the efficiencies associated with transformation.

Our decision-making was based on our perception of who the customer was, rather than the reality, and this was hampering the transformation journey. We wanted to have a platform that was under our control, with the ability to self-manage a substantial amount of the transformation journey.

We needed new approaches to help us meet our goals and deliver the full benefits to us as a council or the customer. The first step was to invest in a council-wide digital platform. This helped us achieve our ambitions for a completely integrated front-end and back-end system service using one source of data.

Q. What benefits did you hope to see by undertaking a digital transformation?

A. It was very important to find a platform that would provide us with a front-of-house solution and allow us to move back-office legacy systems onto the platform, consolidating the 45 systems over time when needed. It was also imperative to maintain a level of autonomy and control through a platform which would enable the upskilling of staff to make changes and improve it after the initial implementation.

Q. Apart from technology, what else is critical to digital transformation?

A. When looking for the ideal solution, it was important that we found the right partner with the technical experience that would allow us to feed into the design and collaborate through an agile process. We didn’t want an on-premise legacy provider or to simply move existing technology onto someone else’s servers. We wanted a Software-as-a-Service platform in the cloud.

Arcus Global with its proven track record with other authorities, and a unique, true front-to-back office solution built on the world-leading Salesforce platform gave us this flexibility. Together we have started to implement one digital platform that includes a library of council processes and a single point of access for the customer across a range of council services. At the same time, we have a single view of the customer journey, which has provided a whole host of new information and business intelligence to aid strategic decision making. We are now using the same technology and accessing the same real-time data as our customers.

Q. How did the project begin – what took place in the initial stages?

A. The first phase of the project was to implement a Digital Services Hub underpinned by Salesforce CRM. It has two distinct functions. For residents, the Citizen’s Portal provides real-time interactions for a host of services such as revenues and waste & recycling, and provides self-service requirements in a single online account. For staff, the Employee Portal was developed for a range of internal processes such as HR management and a new IT service desk which gives staff the same self-serve online functionality, treating them as an internal customer.

Q. Where are you now in your transformation journey? What benefits have you seen so far?

A. The project has given us the structure to start delivering productivity and efficiency savings. We are working on a roadmap to further consolidate systems and data. This will remove vast amounts of manual work and more importantly will reduce the associated risks surrounding data quality.

The second phase is underway with more digital services added for citizens and businesses and the further consolidation of back-end systems and data.

In December 2018, we extended the Citizen’s Portal to include 'MyTenancy' which provides residents access to live housing account information, including viewing balances, making payments and sending/receiving messages. Additionally, in February 2019, we went live with Arcus Global’s end-to-end Green Waste service which has been proven to increase revenues and reduce costs for councils around the UK, adding further functionality for residents and another online self-service process for the council.

Q. Can you summarise how this project has helped you?

A. By undertaking this project, we have simplified the customer transactional journey, freeing up resources to concentrate on delivering other services for people who truly need our support. It also improves our decision making as we can now base it on data, plus it also supports the overall St Albans digital transformation journey.

Essentially, self-serve functioning enables the citizen to transact with us when they want to, rather than when one of our offices are open. It also changes the way our citizens perceive us in terms of us being a modern and open-for-business service.

Overall, the new digital offering puts the customers’ needs at the heart of the journey by enabling them to self-serve online. It also gives us real-time information, which helps us better understand their needs and shape our services accordingly.

Q. Where do you see this project in twelve months?

A. Following a very successful first two years of the transformation programme we have seen positive change and can quickly react to changing needs of both citizens and businesses without the traditional issues associated with legacy IT systems. As such, we are primed for the next step of our digital journey. The roadmap over the next year will focus on the areas that can deliver the biggest benefit to our citizens.

Q. Did you learn anything surprising as a result of this project? Do you have any advice for other councils struggling with legacy technology?

A. The legacy applications that we use were not agile enough to change in the way and at the rate we need them to. Based on our experience, my advice to other local authorities thinking about digital transformation is: don’t be afraid to change the technology platforms that you use: be bold!

Photo: © Ian Capper

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