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Digital strategy

1. Current position

“Digital transformation means gradual transition to an underlying business model that exploits ubiquitous web-based infrastructure to enable commonly shared capabilities.” — Dr Mark Thompson, Computer Weekly

 

Our digital landscape

 

 

Many of our customers already interact with us via digital channels

  • The corporate website is the largest channel for customer contact, reaching over 1m users per annum
  • Almost half of residents have used the corporate website in the last 12 months
  • Cloud hosting of the corporate website has delivered improvements in cost and reliability
  • We routinely publish information, advice and guidance on the web, and this is kept up to date by the central publishing team working in partnership with the relevant business owners
  • All council services have some representation on the web – over 70 different services are represented in some form
  • The corporate website is typically updated 80 times each week
  • The centralised publishing team has a framework for ensuring consistency, and content that meets user needs
  • Our high volume services typically enable customers to perform some or all of the service via digital
  • Customers can report defects – e.g. a pothole or broken streetlight – via a web application
  • Library users can renew a book by logging into their account
  • Over 90% of parents apply for a school place online, although proof of address needs to be submitted separately
  • We have purchased new digital tools which are integrated into our main publishing platform, enabling us to digitise more services and better meet user need:
  • The ecommerce platform enables us to increase revenue by improving the customer experience (e.g. purchasing multiple tickets to a country park event in a single transaction)
  • The customer account platform enables customers to check the progress of a request
  • The telephony platform enables us to handle webchat and phone calls, and provides staff the option of using instant messaging

Our colleagues understand the potential of digital transformation to improve customer satisfaction and decrease cost – by designing services that work first time and do not require manual intervention. Our ‘Future Shape’ organisational model prioritises, and places an obligation on council services to identify opportunities for digital to transform their approach.

Despite this position, there are a number of structural weaknesses in our position.

  1.  Digital services have not always been built with a comprehensive understanding of user needs and context, or with sufficient capacity for ongoing improvements. Some digital services continue to generate significant offline contact because they have limited functionality (e.g. ID verification) and need to be made easier for customers to use. Most council services use digital only to publish information
  2. Customer satisfaction has decreased – from 89% in 2013 to 74% in 2015
  3. The web presence has proliferated – and there is no agreed standard to which these are developed. Secondary websites have been built on separate, often proprietary solutions, duplicating costs and limiting the ability to integrate customer journeys or share functionality.
  4. The volume of content and frequency with which it needs to be updated in order to remain accurate means there is insufficient resource for it to be tested and refined in response to user research.
  5. We lack the resource or capability to build and maintain good digital services. Internally, we have limited digital skills (e.g. front-end development) and wider digital understanding (e.g. user research, prototyping) and we lack the technological capability to deliver core functions (e.g. identity management)

Senior managers audited our current progress towards digital transformation by conducting a qualitative assessment of progress against 10 statements that define an organisation that is digital by default. The average scores are set out below - and we will use this framework to measure progress of this strategy.

 

Principle

Explanation

Score

Start with user needs

Don’t start with the current process or technological opportunity – understand the value you’re creating for users

2 - some people, occasionally

Show, don’t tell

Develop early working versions to get feedback – prove what works

1 - Not currently

Lead from the front

Digital transformation is hard. It can only be driven by senior leaders

2- some people, occasionally

Keep horizons short

Focus on one thing and work iteratively until it’s fixed

1 - Not currently

Assume it exists

There is a low-cost tool for almost any need or problem

you have

2 - Some people, occasionally

Work in the open

Be open about your successes and failures. Share your code, share your plans, share your data – it makes things better

1 - Not currently

Break down silos

Share knowledge across your organisation by building

cross discipline project teams

2 - Some people, occasionally

Get good data

Every organisation should do more with the data they have. Bring in or train someone who can help you use it effectively

1 - Not currently

Track live performance

Help everyone to understand and monitor impact by putting up a live performance dashboard somewhere

noticeable in the office

1 - Not currently

Ensure it’s sustainable

Make sure you can afford to support and maintain the kit your use. Not just to implement it in the first place

2 - Some people, occasionally

External position

The vast majority of our residents have basic digital skills, according to independent research. An increasing number both expect, and would prefer, to access council services via digital channels. Whilst there is significant variation in digital confidence for different age groups, ethnicities and income groups, over 85% of our residents can use digital to access our highest volume services.

The increased focus and improved performance of central government digital services, presents a significant opportunity:

The open way of working and creation of shared assets provides the opportunity to learn, and even copy the approach which has been tested at scale

The new approach to development envisages providing a common set of tools that we will be able to use

However, there is also evidence that public expectation is increasing significantly. Research into the performance of local government websites revealed a 30% decrease in customer satisfaction in the last year. If we do not significantly improve our performance, customers are likely to be more dissatisfied.

Increasing competition for scarce digital skills means that improvements to digital services is significantly more expensive in the short-term than many of the day-rates that the council pays for other professional expertise.

Almost all the technology that enables our digital services is purchased from third parties, many of which expect to provide solutions that enable integration with other systems. However, product licence cycles and priorities to deliver cost-savings means decisions can be taken in isolation of each other.

Budget constraints, particularly for revenue spending, limits our ability to purchase ‘best of breed’ software solutions. Further limitations on local government spending could create pressure to reduce investment in digital services.

2. Vision, principles and objectives

Vision

Digital services so good, people prefer to use them

Guiding principles

This vision is supported by five guiding principles

  1.  Everything starts with user need
  2. We learn more by showing what it looks like, rather than telling people what it might do
  3. We work hard to make things simple for our users
  4. Our services will be constantly improved in response to data
  5. We make things in the open and make our services open

Objectives

 

Objective How we will achieve this How we will measure this
Services redesigned for digital 3-5 digital exemplars to redesign highest volume and most complex services

 Reduction in cost per transaction

Increased customer satisfaction

Technical capabilities to support channel shift Re-use, buy and create technical capabilities to support lower volume services to use digital channels

 Increased digital take-up across all services

Reduction in non digital contact

Skills and roles to deliver constant improvement Dedicated product managers, supported by a bench of digital expertise (user research, developers) working to fortnightly release schedules

Increased digital take-up across all services

Reduction in non digital contact

Trusted, secure services developed cost-effectively We follow the approach of GDS wherever possible; use common government and open source solutions

All new digital services reach the service standard

Council can fund, build and improve services 

3. Strategic options

“Strategy is a set objectives, policies and plan that, taken together, define the scope of the enterprise and its approach to survival and success” Richard Rummelt, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

We have examined a set of strategic options for the development of our digital services, and conducted a qualitative assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, and the fit with BCC.

Option one: Government as a Platform

Government as a Platform is a term used to describe the building of a common infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes. Each component of the common infrastructure is designed to be ‘interoperable’ – it can be used in conjunction with other services and easily be replaced.

For local government, this can mean both using assets developed by central government, other local authorities and/or, developing assets that can be used by other partners (e.g. partners who deliver services on behalf of the council.

Example

Verify is an identity management solution, developed by the Government Digital Service, which can be used to verify a user’s identity as part of any other ‘interoperable’ system. The same solution is used to verify the identity of an HMRC customer paying tax as a passport applicant.

 Assessment

This approach avoids duplicating core functionality across multiple digital services (e.g. every service creating its own alerts and notifications feature). For us, it means we can use assets that have been developed elsewhere and have been tested by millions of users across the country. However, the market of platform products is still nascent – core functionality for local government is not yet available. Verify, for example, is not commonly available for local authorities.

Building stand-alone components can ensure that each is ‘best of breed’ rather than purchasing software that is better at some functions than others (e.g. a better payment gateway than user interface). However, it does also require that the platform is given sufficient support to ensure it continues to meet user need.

Making most of the opportunity to use a variety of platforms requires development capability to integrate platform products and interoperability of existing systems (e.g. business applications) and given the strategic importance of this, and the need for understanding how the platforms fit together, these skills would be required in-house.

Conclusion

Buckinghamshire County Council should make use of third party platforms wherever possible. It should avoid purchasing integrated solutions that do not enable components to work together.

Option two: Adopt the principles and approach of the Government Digital Service

The principles and approach of the Government Digital Service is set out in the government’s digital strategy and the service manual. It sets out a standard, a method of developing digital services, and a set of design principles that have been developed through thousands of hours of user research.

Example

Citizens Advice developed a set of digital services following the principles of the government’s strategy, service manual and design principle. Doing so saved the charity £500,000 because it was able to retire a previously critical piece of business technology.

Whilst there are important differences in the look and feel between the government’s and Citizens Advice digital services, there are a set of commonalities where the user need was the same (e.g. trusted, impartial advice).

 Assessment

The core assets produced and maintained by GDS are well-researched, trusted by users and supported by a rolling and transparent programme of user research that ensures they continue to meet user need. Many of our customers will use services provided on GOV.UK, and some will do so more frequently than the services they access from the council. Therefore, adopting the same approaches helps provide some users with greater reassurance and understanding of how to use the service.

Much of the GDS approach has been designed to deliver transactional services – typically mandatory services involving registration, application or payments. Whilst the council provides many services like this, it has a set of additional marketing and democratic functions that aren’t provided via GOV.UK in central government. In particular, our public health activities often seek to support behaviour change.

Whilst there may be opportunity to learn from other local authorities, there are more differences than similarities in the approach. And much of the thinking and design is not developed openly. So copying another county council may be a shortcut to meet user need, or may simply be adopting the style preferences of another organisation.

Conclusion

Adopting GDS approaches is an efficient way for the council to follow practice that we know has been tested with users at scale. However, we will need to research what users want from our marketing, democratic and behaviour change activities to understand the extent to which we need to vary the GDS approach to these functions.

 Option three: Redesigning services for digital

Each service is redesigned to understand what users need and maximise the potential of digital to improve the customer experience and reduce the cost of delivering the service.

Example

The DVLA redesigned driving licences for digital channels. Applications are handled online and for some customers, the service can find their photo from their passport application, reducing the need for manual intervention.

The paper counterpart licence, which records penalties, has been removed. Instead the information can be viewed via a web service and shared with authorised third parties (such as vehicle rental services).

 Assessment

Service redesign increases the likelihood of meeting customer expectations whilst transforming the cost-base of a service. Migrating paper-based forms to web forms, or paper notifications to email delivers incremental efficiencies. However, there remain key frictions to a ‘best in class’ digital customer experience. For example, school applications require paper documents to be scanned, submitted and manually checked to confirm a customer’s eligibility. Theoretically this can be all delivered digitally without manual intervention.

However, the council provides significantly different types of services to different customers. There are services for vulnerable customers, such as social care, where a smaller proportion of the customer base might prefer to use a digital service. Some other services will still need to issue paper – such as birth certificates – to comply with legislation. Others are inexpensive to administer and low volume per year – e.g. applying to store petrol – and fundamental service redesign may not deliver a return on investment.

Redesigning services sequentially can reinforce silos or distinctions between services that do not work for customers (e.g. separate services for school admissions and home/school transport). A ‘service by service’ approach could also lead to technology being developed twice for individual services that performs the same function.

The scope for service redesign may also be limited by the business applications that administer them (for example, a database that does not enable data to be easily imported or exported).

Conclusion

Redesign of our major services is essential if we are to deliver services through digital that are so good that people prefer to use them over other channels. However, this approach will not suit all of our services.

 Option four: A portal for customers to access multiple services

A web portal typically provides a group of customers with access to multiple services, often (but not necessarily) enabling some personalisation of the interface, the content and the range of services.

Example

Banking websites provide a range of content and services for a range of core and peripheral banking products – but exclude third party services (e.g. money management software)

 Assessment

Development of a portal to access services may be particularly relevant for certain types of customers who need a limited range of specialist council services. Our business customers – such as schools customers – all have a common set of needs and are less likely to need to access the broader range of council services.

A portal could provide some benefits in consistency of the user interface between services, and enable further contacts (such as webchat or notifications) to be personalised to the user to a greater extent than a set of separate digital services.

However, the majority of council customers are likely to need to access different services at different points depending on their needs and the stage of their life. For example, whilst there are a set of services that a parent may wish to access, they may also have a role as a carer of an older person. Users may also want different types of relationships with different services – e.g. attending an event at a country park compared to social services support for families.

Given the currently limited range of digital services and lack of understanding of user need, the council is more likely to improve customer satisfaction and save money by redesigning its services for digital channels rather than migrating them to a portal for specific customer groups.

 Conclusion

A portal, such as Schools Web, may be attractive for particular groups of business customers but is unlikely to be a key user need for the majority of residents.

 Option 5: Outsourcing delivery to a partner

Outsourcing provision of digital services to a partner could be tied to improvements in customer experience and reduction in cost.

Example

The London Borough of Barnet has outsourced delivery of its customer service functions to Capita. Under the new support and customer service contract, Capita delivers a range of services for the Council including corporate programmes, customer services, estates, finance, human resources and payroll, information systems, procurement, revenues and benefits. The contract is worth approximately £320m over 10 years.

 Assessment

The council is moving towards becoming a ‘commissioning council’ in common with many other local authorities. Key services, such as transport, are already provided by private sector partners. The Transport for Buckinghamshire website was developed and hosted by Ringway Jacobs as part of the contract.

The existing model of commissioning has led to fragmentation of the customer experience. For example, customers who do not use the TfB website will phone the BCC contact centre but are not able to use its webchat. Further outsourcing of individual digital services would lead to greater fragmentation.

However, there are a set of services that are still provided in-house which would require ongoing provision of digital services. Whilst these are delivered in-house, the potential benefits of outsourcing would be limited as the provider would have limited levers to redesign the service.

The council’s other key customer touchpoints – front of house, contact centre and complaints – all remain in-house

 Conclusion

The currently mix of service provision limits the potential benefits that could be accrued from outsourcing responsibility for the delivery of digital services. Without a mix of service provision limits the potential benefits that could be accrued from outsourcing responsibility for the delivery of digital services. Without a wider outsourcing of customer service provision, the attractiveness to a potential partner may be limited.

4. Sign up to test our digital services

We are developing digital services to make it easier to access council services. We regularly test parts of these services with people, to understand whether they are easy to use and understand what we need to make better. This also saves money for council tax payers.

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