Use of the G-Cat government purchasing catalogue allowed Castle Morpeth Borough Council and Alnwick District Council to make significant savings in time and resources compared to an open tendering process.
G-Cat allows public sector bodies to buy from an agreed list of suppliers, although the system has attracted criticism for not always offering the lowest prices and possibly contravening European competition law.
The two councils formally merged their IT services into one IT partnership in August 2003, although they had been working together informally on e-government projects since 2002.
The new system, from software supplier Comino, provides workflow and document management for benefits claims and incoming correspondence. It also produces management reports to help assess and improve department performance.
Benefits systems will go live in late August, revenues systems will come online in September, and all other council services will follow. A total of 200 licences have been procured for the roll-out across both councils, allowing them to process 8,000 claims a year.
Julie Brown, ICT partnership manager at the councils, said, "The solution will enable us to offer more services through a broader range of channels and, because all information will be readily available and easier to retrieve than our paper-based system, our customer service will be improved."
Brown said the system would improve the quality of data. "Each mandatory stage of the process must be completed before moving on to the next stage, ensuring consistency.
"Work can be easily reassigned if a staff member is absent, allowing visibility of each stage of the process and a full audit trail," she said.
Documents are easier and quicker to retrieve and staff are able to answer customer enquiries immediately, rather than having to manually locate a file and then make a telephone call back to the customer, said Brown.