In 2018 Chesterfield Borough Council embarked on an ambitious digital improvement program with the end goal of creating truly citizen-centric council services. Reflecting on the project, Digital Programme Manager, Rachel Felix explores how to deliver modern and efficient integrated digital services.
When you first start out on a digital improvement program, it’s important to get buy-in from senior stakeholders. Of course, the reality is that this isn’t always as easy as it seems. To navigate any preconceptions at Chesterfield, we decided to badge our project as an ICT improvement program, and the main reason for doing this was to secure support from councilors.
We also decided to split the program into two with one workstream focusing on infrastructure and networks and the other looking at business process improvement. The main goal of the program is to remove technical debt, data silos and any difficulty with case management. No more duplication and time-consuming inefficiency and not being able to see the full picture.
There have been lots of ups, downs, and learning along the way. But one element that has proved to be very successful has been to bring digital skills in-house. It’s common for many councils to outsource their IT but we’re starting to see a shift, with many authorities bringing these capabilities back in-house. For this project, we made a conscious effort to strengthen our skill set by keeping it all internal. This led us to create our own digital improvement team and ICT development team, who would work alongside our partners Arcus Global and Salesforce.
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Developing a golden customer record
Upgrading capabilities in a structured way is the key to strong digital transformation and the roadmap we created sets out improvements across the entire council. To do this we have worked with Arcus Global to harness the power of the Salesforce platform. Our corporate vision and strategy from the very beginning has been to utilize this platform as much as possible.
Councils are always striving to provide excellent customer service to citizens, businesses, and visitors. The backbone and starting point for the project saw us implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. It’s a key driver of transformation and acts as a data warehouse, where important information is stored, and where processes originate. We found that, as we’ve continued to build our digital provision, more and more transactions and back-office processes rely on CRM integration.
It’s worth mentioning that we do already have some large existing systems in place, especially around housing revenues and benefits and finance. The strategy here is not to try and replace them but to work on integrating Salesforce with those systems.
The CRM has reduced the time taken to train new staff and we forecast that future integrations will increase this efficiency further. It’s also given us a golden customer record and our advisors now have visibility of all customer interactions, regardless of where they have come from. By integrating our phone system into the platform, citizens who ring our call center will automatically be recorded as a contact. This has helped us to integrate the front-end user experience with back-office infrastructure, particularly regulatory services such as environmental health and waste management services.
The CRM platform also integrates with the Digital Services Hub, a secure self-service portal for citizens. The hub is mobile responsive, and we’ve upped our provision of web forms so that our customers can submit requests at a time and place of their choosing. The forms are then funneled directly to the right department who can handle the request without any manual intervention or re-keying of information. The self-service functionality available through the Digital Services Hub has already made a positive impact. We had just under 12,000 residents signed up with the first six months and we’ve started to see the volume of traffic coming into our contact center reduce, by about 8 percent compared to previous years.
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Developing new capabilities
It’s been a hugely challenging time for local authorities, the pandemic has seen us change the way we work whilst responding to the changing needs of the citizens we serve. Utilizing a cloud-based system has meant that data has been much more accessible to the teams that need it, especially when working remotely.
One of our biggest successes to date has been the service we created for business grants. We didn’t launch the digital improvement program with business grants in mind, but last year we all found ourselves in the midst of the pandemic and we needed to issue and manage grants to local businesses. Initially, we thought about doing this through our revenues and benefits system but instead decided to harness our in-house skills to develop our own end-to-end process using the Salesforce case management function. To date, we’ve paid out well over £18 million worth of business grants and received 96 percent of applications submitted online.
What we’ve quickly been able to see is that by using Salesforce in a number of different departments, the data we hold is more accessible to the teams that need it. For instance, the grants delivery team can share data with the health and safety team and food business to ensure that each department has visibility over whether the local businesses applying for grants were operating or not.
The platform has also helped us to streamline our processes and removed the need for our staff to manually re-key information and scan documents. We’ve got some really ambitious savings targets associated with this project and so far, we’ve realized £380K of savings, mainly through the reduction of manual process and reducing administrative burdens.
For authorities setting out on digital improvement projects, it’s really important that you have support managing the changes you plan to implement. The responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the IT, digital or comms teams - there needs to be a joined-up approach. Also, don’t underestimate the bedding-in process once your project has launched. Support channels will be important here, especially when carrying out workshops and embedding change into the likes of competency frameworks. Having the best available technology doesn’t guarantee digital transformation success on its own. You need to have a great team and the right approach and partners on board to help shape the change and measure outcomes.
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Rachel Felix, digital programme manager, Chesterfield Borough Council