Worcestershire targets delivering 100% of services online
Council believes by focusing on app-driven digital channels developed with OutSystems, it can cut costs, simplify council interaction for citizens, and share solutions with other authorities
Worcestershire County Council wants to have 100% of its services accessible online by 2017.
The council, which is in the middle of a programme to transform itself into “an innovative organisation that puts residents' priorities at the heart of every decision that it makes” has had to save around £20m a year for the last three years. The financial picture is likely to be similar for next year too.
By delivering 100% of its services online, variously through a portal, apps, workflows and process, Worcestershire expects to save around £2.8m over three years.
The move marks a trend among local councils towards digital transformation, moving service delivery to citizens to cheaper ‘digital’ channels, where the medium, for example, is typically online self-service, rather than much more expensive telephone or face to face channels.
Recent analysis by public sector research group Kable has shown that the average cost of face-to-face contact, £10.16, is more than three times more expensive than telephone contact, with both channels significantly most expensive than carrying out an online transaction, which costs just 20 pence.
To deliver its digital transformation, Worcestershire’s IT leadership needed to move from a traditional coding and application development approach, which can hinder the rapid development, testing and management of apps, to a low-code application development platform. That platform was needed to replace slow, manual processes with apps that can more rapidly meet the needs of citizens by improving customer service and minimising backlog.
The county council considered several low-code platform options and eventually picked OutSystems to launch an accelerated digital transformation plan, making it easier to create, deploy, iterate and manage the lifecycle of apps and processes, notably by reducing the time and cost needed for development and management. The approach was intended to support end users through apps that simplify their interaction with the council.
Together with OutSystems, the county council’s team was able to deliver its first live app within eight weeks and has now scaled up the number of apps in its portfolio to 53, a move which the council estimates has saved it around £1.6m in one year.
The council has also published the apps under an open source licence so that other local authorities can share and reuse them, enabling the councils to also deliver digital services more quickly and at lower cost.
The first app to be built by Worcestershire with OutSystems’ help was a ‘copy certificates’ service for citizens who need to get copies of birth, marriage and death certificates. The app, which replaced an existing system, allows citizens to securely and conveniently apply and pay for certificate copies, as well as keep track of their requests. The council has now seen 70% of applications for certificate copies now being made online.
Another app adopted by the council concerns registering for adult learning. Previously, registering for adult classes could only take place at libraries, which only hampered librarians from accomplishing their primary duties. It also lacked the ability to predict demand for adult education classes, resulting in an excess or shortage of teaching staff and resources.
The new OutSystems-built and mobile-enabled app has now delivered a 71% increase in the number of adults registering for classes.
Another app the local Worcestershire schools are using enables school leaders to alert parents, teachers and pupils when a school needs to be closed.
Neill Crump, the council’s head of technology development and customer services said,”We decided in 2013 that our strategy was to put 100% of services online through our Customer Access Programme. OutSystems has brought in an agile way of working and helped make us very customer focused: citizens want to conduct their business with the council at a time that suits them. Take the copies of certificates. The application is so simple to use that people don’t ring us anymore. And 99% of our library renewals are now taken by a simple online option. That leaves library staff free to do other things.
“By adopting a similar approach to the environment, when it comes to issues such as flooding, we are able to see where solve more than just one challenge. We’ve got many of them. We need to get a lot closer to our partners such as the NHS, the police, the schools, the Department for Work and Pensions, for example. We also need to be able to deliver services that are a lot more easy to use for our citizens.”
Discussing the concept of ‘local government as a platform’, for which Worcestershire has strong ambitions, Crump added, “Outsystems allows you to create apps and put them in the OutSystems app store. That allows other government organisations to go and pick these apps which helps them do lift and shift.”
The county council ultimately hopes that by continuing to work with OutSystems on its goal of achieving 100% of services being delivered online, that will help make Worcestershire become a transformed organisation that has achieved genuine channel shift, while cutting its costs, and also making interaction easier for citizens.