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Adur and Worthing councils are taking a low-code approach to building digital services, a decision which has meant the local authorities have been able to implement changes faster than most.
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In the space of a year, the councils have planned, procured and gone live with several systems, including a low-code platform from Matssoft that underpins the councils’ end-to-end digital services – a piece of work which led to them winning the Socitm Digital Innovation Award 2015.
When the councils’ director for digital and resources, Paul Brewer, joined in May 2014, Adur and Worthing – district and borough councils, respectively, which joined in a partnership in 2007 – were like most councils around the country and were struggling to keep up with IT developments.
From old and slow legacy systems operating in silos, to network outages, it was clear Brewer had a big job on his hands.
He quickly engaged consultancy firm Methods Digital to work with the councils on developing a plan of attack, and it became clear that simply putting in technology for technology’s sake wasn’t going to work.
“Our starting point was looking at what digital operating looks like in the public sector and how to respond to that,” Brewer says.
“We were seeking to disrupt and to allow the disruption of traditional businesses operating. We needed to move away from vertical lines of business and get rid of duplicate processes.”
A low-code approach
The councils’ five-year digital transformation programme has three strands: Productivity, platform and telephony.
Initially, the councils were keen to use open-source software as the basis for the platform, but they abandoned the idea, deciding they could get the same interoperability using a proprietary cloud-based platform with open application programming interfaces (APIs).
Although the councils follow the Government Digital Service (GDS) methodology, they have decided to stray from the approach of building at coding level.
Instead of buying a standard product that would require a lot of coding to get up and running, they settled on a low-code platform from Matssoft, a product widely used in the financial services, but new to the public sector.
“Because we’re district and borough councils, we can’t afford coders to build everything,” says Brewer.
“The software has allowed us to get up and running quickly without having spent all the money on coding.”
The councils have trained staff members on the low-code platform, mostly people with business analytic skills and not programmers, Brewer explains.
“We don’t need expert programmers, but can have business analysts who can dig in deep using common capabilities,” he says.
The first service to be up and running on the platform is waste and recycling, in particular the green bins digital service, which was built in a matter of weeks.
The service means that if a citizen requests a new bin online, a payment can be made on the platform and the request will be sent directly to the organisation delivering the service.
“Because we are able to build and listen to what the service needs in-house, we can create a perfectly tailored digital service,” says Brewer.
“The core of what we’re doing is to build digital services that are genuinely end-to-end.”
The council has also procured a set of licenses from Salesforce. The company's software, which is mainly used for the contact centre, integrates with Matssoft. Together, the two platforms create the councils’ citizen interaction platform.
Consultancy firm Methods Digital joined up the two systems earlier in 2015, meaning they can share data and information across systems.
This means if the citizen ordering a green bin phones up the contact centre instead of ordering online, the journey is the same. The information is entered into Salesforce which then automatically sends the information to the Mattsoft system.
The switch to Google
The council’s own staff and politicans had long been using Windows products such as Microsoft Outlook for emails, calendar and documents. But that system posed a problem as it made it difficult to gain access to the network from home.
The trust already had a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy in place and decided to switch to Google for Work in April 2015. The switch means staff can get access to important documents and emails from any device at any time.
However, while the switch went well, it wasn’t without its issues.
Paul Brewer, Adur and Worthing councils
“Google went down extremely well but not without complications. Quite a few business systems have tight integration with Outlook, but we found piece of third-party software to help us overcome those issues,” Brewer says.
The Google tools also give the councils new, collaborative ways of working with staff that are encouraged to be disruptive and come up with ideas.
Going forward, Brewer and his team want to continue restructuring the councils’ services, redesigning and simplifying processes wherever possible.
“We want to eventually switch off all our legacy software. There’s no point having a great looking front end when the back end is clunky and not fit for purpose,” he says.
“We’re also looking at infrastructure as a service, closing down our datacentre and moving to the cloud.”
For Brewer, this isn’t an IT project, it’s about making the councils more efficient and easier to interact with, and improving capabilities, not just in terms of software, but people too.
“There’s no point in putting in technology to transform the service if we don’t look at changing the processes and the way people work,” he says.