John is Product Director and oversees all things Products and Projects here at IEG4.
Council’s co-developed system to bring ‘savings in six figures’
King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Council wanted to reduce the pressure on the contact centre by providing digital services that could cut down so-called ‘avoidable’ contact, while improving the user experience.
The Council decided to co-develop a solution in partnership with SME IEG4. “I was particularly drawn to IEG4’s ambitions and vision for online citizen services which echoed my own," said Honor Howell, Assistant Director, Central and Community Service.
Being involved as a co-developer means that the system has been designed collaboratively based upon how the Council and residents expect online services to work. “We needed something very mobile friendly (43% of traffic to our website comes from a mobile device), scalable and agile,” she said.
The result of the collaboration is OneVu, which gives customers access to data that the Council holds on them, letting them track service requests irrespective of the department it relates to, such as the progress of a change of circumstances form. It has been designed with a focus on what the citizen wants and not just on what the service can make available to them . Think online parcel tracking for local government.
“We did an analysis of phone calls to the Council and we think 40% is about process chasing, for example, asking when a benefits claim will be processed”, said Howell.
OneVu will be used across “the big front-facing services”: Planning, Housing, Licensing, Environmental Health and Waste, rolling out in phases, starting with Revenues and Benefits in January 2016.
A digital dialogue in one place
OneVu gives customers access to data that the Council holds on them. But it is also a two-way street, because the Council can also send timely automated messages to residents via the system using a pre-selected ‘preferred method’. For example, if a resident needs to submit further evidence to support an application, OneVu sends an automated message requesting them to do so.
The claimant can then upload the evidence, say, a photo of a recent payslip via the system, ‘closing the digital loop,’ removing any postal exchange and saving time and money.
The aim is to better arm residents with information including the predicted time it will take to process a request. “OneVu allows us to set processing service levels”, said Howell.
In a bid to further reduce calls, emails and face-to-face contact, Howell and her team will use OneVu to resolve another inefficiency. “We receive lots of emails. It’s very, very difficult to manage. If we don’t get the right information from residents, you get ‘email ping pong’ - it takes two or three goes to get the data we need.
“We’re looking to use intelligent forms integrated with the Back Office systems to make emails easier to respond to". The idea is that these forms will pre-empt the users’ needs and present only the most pertinent questions to gather just the data the Council requires.
Carrots and sticks
Howell realised early on that there needed to be a strong incentive to create a customer account to access OneVu.
In common with many councils, until OneVu is implemented, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk’s online Council Tax service requires residents to apply online for a password which is then posted to them.
But residents who just want to ‘get the job done’ don’t want to wait and so, understandably, they usually call, email or visit the Council. So to “tempt” residents into creating a OneVu account, said Howell, users will be able to log in via their social media account or register using their email address, for an immediate start.
If the citizen wants to access secure information, such as details about a Housing Benefit claim, they are also asked for additional information such as a National Insurance number.
“There is no need to wait for us to interfere. You can do what you need to do there and then”, said Howell.
Once up and running, OneVu should reduced the pressure on the Council's contact centre, although Howell recognises the need to balance self service with allowing queries in from some residents down traditional communication routes.
In the private sector, some companies are prone to burying their phone number on their website, she said. “Local authorities are not like that – we have a duty to serve people”, said Howell.
She admits that the co-development path was a riskier choice than buying a ready-made CMS. “We have a superior solution to anyone else at less cost – I thought it was worth the risk.
“It’s difficult to say what the predicted savings are, but I think it runs into six figures per year. It really depends on the digital appetite of our customers and how the council promote and encourage its use. In this ‘brave new world’, it depends how brave we want or need to be,” said Howell.