The London Borough of Sutton is blazing a trail towards e-government compliance on a scale that few councils in the country have contemplated.
While many local authorities are focused exclusively on front-office solutions to demonstrate improved call-handling capabilities, Sutton has gone much further. It has employed a customer service and support system from supplier Remedy, to create an integrated front-to-back office structure that is setting new standards in e-government innovation.
"Before we embarked on a programme to implement a comprehensive solution across Sutton to our 180,000 citizens, we ran a pilot scheme and it quickly became clear just how powerful these solutions could be," says John Grice, executive head of customer services at Sutton council. "Now we have placed Remedy strategically at the centre of our business planning.
"We have identified three core databases within Sutton - land and property, our customer database [Remedy] and the financial suite. We are repositioning all our systems around these, with our website as the council's central information repository. This will enable us to identify what information we want to be in the public domain, what information is going to be accessible internally through the intranet - and we are starting to consider the extranet as well."
Sutton is leading the way on several fronts, not least in meeting - and beating - the requirements of the National Land and Property Gazetteer, the land data repository for all UK authorities. Originally, Sutton was being asked to feed its updates into the database on a monthly, then weekly, basis. Now the council is involved in trialling an online link, so updates can be performed on a virtually live basis. This information is shared across a number of providers, perhaps most importantly with the emergency services where it serves as a vital resource when dealing with incidents.
Sutton is also expanding on its network of existing citizen information kiosks, with several mini "one-stop shops" planned for its libraries, ensuring there is an information site within one mile of every house in the borough. Here citizens can access details on everything from transport to job vacancies; from UK online government channels to other providers such as national charities or the local police station.
"There are a small number of authorities that are pressing ahead and trying to do things innovatively," says Grice. "There are others which have adopted a 'wait and see' approach, looking to hang on to the shirt-tails of those currently involved in national Pathfinder projects. Meanwhile, the clock is running down.
"At Sutton, we were determined to forge ahead from the start. When the e-government initiative was first launched publicly, for our own business reasons we were already running several pilot projects involving Remedy's Solutions.e-government, for us, has meant building on the work already started, such as implementing a call centre system, linked to the back office, as a crucial part of the jigsaw."
Sutton's pioneering spirit has won it a merit award from the Association of Public Service Excellence for "innovation in the use of IT and customer service".