Newport City Council expects to deliver cost savings and customer service improvements with its online services programme.
The council has improved its online services and encouraged residents to "Save time, go online". By increasing the number of online services it offers, it predicts to save £39,000 by April 2014.
Tracy McKim, IT infrastructure manager at Newport City Council said that the council had targets to "channel shift" from the more traditional face-to-face and telephone services to encourage more online self-service transactions to save costs.
According to Socitim (The society of information technology management) figures, it costs the council £8.62 to facilitate every face-to-face transaction, £2.83 per telephone transaction, and 15p per online transaction.
The council estimates that more than half of transactions will now be completed through self-service methods, which will equate to £500,000 savings over a five-year period.
Maintaining a physical presence
But the council recognised the need to maintain a physical presence in Newport and, alongside its improvements to online, it has opened a multi-agency information station in the town centre.
The information station allows customers to come into a face-to-face environment, but if the enquiry is relatively simple, there are a number of PCs available and staff on hand to offer assistance.
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Using Jadu’s form and digital services platform, the council has been able to dramatically increase the number of e-forms available online for customers. Residents can now pay their council tax online, renew library books and book swimming lessons using these Newport City Council branded forms which are integrated with the council’s CRM (customer relationship management) and CMS (content management systems) in the back-end.
“Residents have access to services 24/7 and have the ability to perform several services at one point,” said McKim.
The platform is also available on smartphone and tablets through mobile optimised websites.
“I’m not sure individual people living in the country want to download lots of apps,” said McKim. “We’ve had a look at apps and may continue to do so.”
As well as internal drivers for the channel shift, the council also had help from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) who provided funding as part of its Digital By Default programme. The programme was to develop a number of pilots across the country for high self-service usage to try and work out what types of initiatives it will support in the future.
With this funding, the council was able to kick start the "Save time, go online" project in October 2012. The funding paid for advertising around Newport to educate residents, as well as help towards the relaunch of its website and pushing for more services online through the Jadu platform.
The council now sees 45% of its customer transactions occurring through self-service 'non-mediated channels; which includes online.
The funding also helped pay for staff that are on the ground helping the citizens of Newport.
“When swimming lessons were being booked at the pool, our staff were saying that people didn’t have to wait in the queue but could go online and, while they were at it, they could pay their council tax online,” said McKim.
The journey continues
The DWP’s Digital By Default programme is concludes at the end of the summer, but Newport’s new services will continue.
“The funding will stop, but we feel like we were already on that journey," said McKim. "We had already established in our corporate strategy the channel shift requirement and the savings we planned to make were in our annual plan. Digital By Default was an incredible bonus and a boost to that,” she said.
Newport City Council has been working with Jadu for its e-forms since 2007 and, at the time, it wanted to change its online presence from information to transactional. The IT department is able to fully integrate the bespoke front level e-form that the customer sees to its back-end business processes. Jadu e-forms are fed back onto the council's main IT infrastructure, based on Linux and the Apache web server.
“Jadu has improved over that period and the customer has become more comfortable with that. It’s a much smoother usable experience,” said McKim.
We already concentrate on information security as a council, but online services can actually help if they’re integrated fully. There’s nothing worse than hundreds of disparate systems with no integration and there’s also no data on individual laptops with a risk of losing.”