Scarborough Borough Council’s deputy chief executive, Hilary Jones, discusses the development of its ‘Switched On’ vision to modernise the Council and develop digital services.
As people increasingly use the internet to shop and bank, it’s no surprise there is a growing appetite for online council services too. Citizens want to be able to use online channels to pay council bills, order services and access information. The demand for a better digital environment isn’t restricted to residents – for councils like ours, developments in technology can deliver internal efficiencies, not only in front and back office operations but also in opening up the potential for greater agile working.
Like most local authorities, Scarborough Borough Council wants to be able to meet these demands. For the 100,000-plus residents in our borough, we want to enrich their lives by improving the range and quality of services we offer, providing a better customer experience and making services more accessible, 24 hours a day. We also want to modernise our workforce by equipping staff with the means to work most efficiently, wherever they are, ensuring the valuable staffing resources we have are able to focus on service delivery and not unnecessary administration or travel, and we are committed to finding the most financially viable ways of doing this.
Creating a digital vision
Our digital journey began in April 2013, when the council pulled together a team of staff under the project name ‘SWITCH’. Bringing together practitioners in ICT, policy and performance, customer services and communications, the SWITCH team set out to develop and implement a new operating model for the Council; one that would enable us to deliver our vision for an improved customer experience and a more agile and efficient workforce while also identifying potential efficiency savings.
With technology-driven change, the key to success is to understand, and then adapt. In devising its ‘Switched On’ agenda the team liaised with all services across the organisation, as well as the Customer First team, to gain a better understanding of why the council should adopt an operating model that makes greater use of digital technology. Insight and data which reflected customers’ actual experiences were fed in to create, new service delivery processes which are now making it much easier for residents to engage with us at any time and from a range of devices.
We’ve also found that council staff themselves are eager to embrace new technology to enhance the way they work. An internal survey revealed that more than a quarter of staff work away from their desks more than 20% of the time, doing site visits and inspections. Staff recognised that new technologies to support mobile working would make them more efficient, reducing unnecessary paperwork and the need for travel across a Borough which is geographically quite large.
‘Switching on’ to our new agenda
These insights gave the Council an excellent foundation for its ’Switched On’ programme, which is turning out to be much more than just a vision for process automation. Switched On is about a radical redesign of services using digital technology as an enabler, focusing on two fundamental changes to the council’s operational model:
Self-service: We are making our services as accessible as possible online. Supported by supplier Firmstep’s platform of solutions, the council has just launched a new self-service portal which offers a secure and user-friendly way for citizens to make service requests, report problems, make payments and track the progress of their requests from whatever device and whatever time is most convenient.
By doing this we have put customers in control, enabling them to fully manage their interactions with us, bringing council and community much closer together. As well as catering for customer demand, we believe that over time this will help the council generate significant financial savings. If just 20% of customers engage in self-service, savings can be made along the entire service delivery chain, with the costs of paper, printing, postage, and administration likely to decrease. We believe the improved take-up of self-service alone could save our taxpayers £150,000 over a 12-month period.
Mobile and remote working: Switched On is expanding our capabilities to be a mobile and agile workforce by bringing in solutions that link officers out in the area to back-office systems, without compromising the security of the organisation or the sensitive data we handle. Because the platform can be accessed on tablet devices or smart phones that link staff directly to our back office systems, we expect that productivity will improve as staff can use their time more effectively. There’ll be less travelling, leading to lower fuel costs; and tied in with more home / flexible working and an increase in the use of hot-desking, the amount of permanent office space needed in the future will be lower.
To be fit for the future, Scarborough Borough Council is going through a transition to become a very different organisation: more efficient and effective, with a marked increase in our productivity and performance, enabled by the SWITCH programme.
The investment in the suite of technology gives us customer relationship management to support our customer-first centres and call centre; a citizen self-service portal with enhanced online access that is integrated with back-office systems; and a new website to host and promote self-service as the channel of choice. In short, a new capability that will ensure the council can continue on its journey for continuous improvement that meets the needs of our customers now and in the future. As our council leader, Tom Fox, puts it, “We must continue to innovate, not just so we can deliver services at less cost to the taxpayer, but to ensure we are offering customers the digital options that are now par for the course across the private sector and much of the public sector.”