We would like to look into how we can, as separate authorities, deliver joined up digital services to our collective customers, as if we were a single authority, but maintain council identities over a shared service platform. The separation of District and County services is not understood by the general public and they see us just as “the council” and they expect us, understandably, to service their request at first point of contact. We all spend time and resource in Norfolk developing the same solutions to our customers in Norfolk and providing digital services 7 times over, we believe by collaborating on a shared digital service we could deliver huge cost savings and massive improvements to customer experience.
One of the biggest contributors to this issue is the competitive and performance related pressures to local councils to meet certain standards. As we all strive to “Be The Best” district council we become defensive of our innovations which creates a reluctance to share or help our colleagues in other authorities. This culture has been embedded in our organisations across the country over many years but we are now trying to break down these barriers and open peoples eyes to show how collaboration is the key to delivering successful and cost effective services to our citizens.
With support form Central Government and the backing of MHCLG in this endeavor we will be able to secure commitment and collaboration from all districts in Norfolk to work together.
With 7 Districts and a County Council in Norfolk we all provide or utilise digital platforms delving services to our customers.
- 8 different identity management solutions for each authority in Norfolk.
- 8 platforms for providing digital online forms and portals.
- 8 Web Content Management systems.
- 7 Planning Systems.
- 7 Council Tax Systems.
- 7 Bin Collection Services.
The list goes on and on, for example we have, between us, developed 7 missed bin report forms online where one would have sufficed with the data being routed to the relevant District. This then asks the question, why do we not have this as a central service? Why are we all duplicating effort to meet the same goals? This has made us question how we do things and we have now got together to start to look at what we do and how we could do it better together.
The areas we would like to investigate further are around the following…
- Shared Customer Identity – One account for customers to access services from both District and County.
- Shared Customer Data – Single source of truth in the County for a customer available to all Local Councils to use.
- Shared Online Forms – One form for customers to fill in routed to Council responsible.
- Identity validation and assurance – We do this already for Council Tax Online, how could this be shared?
- Platform costs for services delivered, what costs could be saved from implementing a multi district solution?
We will continue to use our current research methods through R&D, Innovation Labs and Working with emerging technologies to see potential benefits such as Azure and API Gateways https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/services/api-management/ as well as Microsoft B2C AD https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/services/active-directory-b2c/. We will acquire a researcher and project manager to support this process on a more full time basis in order to accelerate the discovery so we can identify and realise benefits earlier.
We would expand the NCI Project group meetings (both Management and Technical) to incorporate this wider agenda and continue to work collaboratively on solutions with an agreed joint Strategy and Vision Statement for the group.
It is envisaged that this will take approx 12 months with monthly group meetings and weekly project team meetings.
The cost of this problem is paying for duplicated effort and digital services across all districts. Already as part of a feasibility study done to support agreement of the joining of paid services from South Norfolk and Broadland, we have identified savings that can be made by just 2 districts joining their digital service delivery. If some of these savings were to be expanded to all 7 districts we could save even more and enable us to develop solutions and services faster as a collaborative digital service. We could save time on developing new solution’s and be more agile in meeting customers ever changing needs. We could all benefit from technological advances together and reduce outgoings by sharing the costs of digital service delivery. We can work together to deliver savings and customer service improvements to all the District and County customers in Norfolk.
This problem is mainly evident in non unitary authorities, with advances in technology we are able to provide single digital services to multiple districts using headless techniques which enables the councils to maintain their identities whilst delivering shared services. This would deliver the same digital benefits as a unitary authority but without the need to change the political landscape of the County, we would also benefit from a wider pool of talent across all districts working in collaboration to deliver savings.
This discovery phase will look into the details of potential savings but we need to establish a process of centralised customer identity management and sharing of customer generic data (Name, Address etc) first, this will underpin and drive the expansion of customer centralised services across all Districts and the County.
We have already started collaborating with all districts and county though the NCI (Norfolk Citizen Identity) Project. We are using SharePoint as a shared resource and place to update news and provide documents for review. We have set up a shared developer area in Visual Studio Online and have started an NCI Technical Group where the developers and senior architects can discuss solutions to collaborative business problems and more importantly share ideas and work as a collaborative team. We will look to create a shared commitment statement to working collaboratively on Norfolk Citizen Identity and attached services.
It would be really good to have some sessions with the Local Digital Collaboration Unit around the discovery phase on how best to utilise this phase and what outcomes we need to be driving for in order to support an Alpha phase of the project. Sometimes we have a tendency to run before we can walk due to our excessive enthusiasm to just get things done but I would like to ensure we approach this in a methodical and practical way as this will need to be a very well designed service at local level to support building on top of this.