Benefits overhaul brings savings

King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council replaces its old mainframe systems. Karl Cushing reports

King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council replaces its old mainframe systems. Karl Cushing reports

To help it meet e-government targets and increase efficiency, King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council has overhauled its revenues and benefits systems.

As Eamonn McCusker, the council's ICT business systems manager explains, revenue and benefits was the last department still using the council's old mainframe-based architecture, which was set up in 1990.

A major problem on the old system was the lack of integration. With three separate databases, the council had to store some information in three separate places, increasing staff workload and the risk of input errors.

McCusker says that overnight processing times were "very lengthy", sometimes not being completed by the morning, when the council needed to be able to access its systems.

The council put out a tender for a new revenues and benefits system, including document imaging, workflow and cash receipting, in June 2000. McCusker says the council considered outsourcing the services to incumbent supplier ICL but there were concerns over the future of any such deal and the proposal
was felt to be too expensive.

In the end, the council chose to work with system and software developer Sx3, which had a good track record and was felt to offer value for money. The deal was signed in November 2000 and a project plan was drawn up in January 2001, with a view to going live the following October.

The council launched the system at the same time as it went live with a new call centre, and the project also coincided with an office move for the revenues and benefits team. However, the roll out went well.

"It all went through remarkably smoothly," says McCusker. "We got all the key elements in place by 1 October."

The council closed down the old system three weeks prior to the launch for data migration purposes. Sx3 trained council staff so they were able to handle cash payments for services such as housing benefits from day one. The new system also went live on business rates, council tax and was able to start document image processing.

McCusker says the new system has reduced the amount of processing and shift work required and freed up computer operators to carry out more technical support and helpdesk work. The number of IT support call-outs has also been reduced by about 10 per month.

The council hopes that year-end tasks, which require the systems to be shut down, will now be completed in a single weekend, rather three weeks, which was the case previously.

The council is currently trialling other services for local residents, including an online benefits calculator and a facility to log direct debit requests online.

In the future, Sx3 will also help the council implement an iWorkflow electronic document management system and a Web browser-based system that will enable council staff to access revenues and benefits information.

"I think it has gone very well," says McCusker. "It is a better environment to work in. The staff are happier and there is better morale out there."

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