Making Progress at Adur & Worthing on Digital & Design


I’m absolutely thrilled with how much work we’ve managed to get done here at Adur & Worthing Councils on digital strategy and delivery. This post explains what we’ve been doing, why and what’s coming up next. The Digital & Design Service is being set up in April (exciting leadership announcement coming soon ..) and along with it a dedicated public blog.

Before I give an outline of the work we’ve been doing, I wanted to set out a few thoughts and ideas to help frame things.

Vision & Principles

In advance of publishing anything official, which we soon will, here are some thoughts about what we might say to set the scene.

We will make our Councils really easy to interact with digitally. Our old IT systems have been holding us all back, and we will replace them with modern, secure, internet-based services that mean we can make simple, elegant, end-to-end digital services a reality to the benefit of our citizens.

Our staff need better work processes, software and devices to do their jobs well and to remove inefficiency. We will use user-centred design principles to radically re-shape and simplify services, improving team collaboration through technology, and enabling people to work from any location using modern devices.

Becoming very capable at digital and design, the Councils will develop their role as leaders and conveners in Adur & Worthing and further afield, helping to address future public service and civic challenges by harnessing the wider capabilities and assets of our system: partners, communities, citizens and businesses.

We will be publishing a ‘living’ Digital Road Map for Adur & Worthing over the next few months. We’ll start with some initial ideas, goals and projects and take time to engage with partners, communities, citizens and businesses, with the aim of building a network of people and groups that will help build our digital future.

Capabilities

We’re talking a lot about capabilities at the moment as we shape our thinking with the help of the folk at Methods Digital. Capabilities is a concept that makes sense for both technology and people. It’s a really powerful way to think about things.

We developed our technology strategy recently by looking at our business capability needs; things like the ability for a customer to make a booking, or a payment. We will be moving away from our legacy line of business systems that duplicate these capabilities across the business and maintain the silos and fragmented customer experience. More details on that further down this post.

But we also want to look hard at the new ‘people capabilities’ for public services; we must develop new skills and approaches like design thinking, digital skills, commerciality, working in the open and taking a more risk-based approach.

It’s widely accepted that local government will increasingly become a facilitator, commissioner and curator, but this only really happens in my view as we break up the old patterns and build new capabilities through fundamental technology change and service re-design. Technology is so instrumental to the way we work and modern platforms give us new possibilities about how services can be delivered. This is why digital is so compelling – if we are brave and get this right, by adopting the right kinds of technologies, we will create possibilities for deep change in public service organisations, helping rethink and rewire the system.

What the sector should definitely collaborate on: 240v or Lego Government

I’m really up for sector collaboration, but it’s actually really hard to make it work and I think there are some really major, structural and natural human barriers. But there are some fundamentals that the sector must collaborate on in order to market-make. New public service innovators need to know they can sell their services to any public service organisation (let’s start with local authorities!), and this requires us to look at making ourselves the same ‘shape’.

Government in the future will, I think, rely on set of curated and supported capabilities that are available to a range of familiar and new providers operating more platform-based business models, allowing for much more creative co-production. For example, MK:Data Hub are creating a civic data capability for the Milton Keynes, which will provide a platform for SMEs to plug into and develop applications for a “Smart” city.

Following the logic mapped out in “Digitizing Government”, I like to think about this as “240v government” or “Government as Lego”. Government needs to create/adopt a set of platforms and standards that citizens and service providers can more easily plug into digitally. Different technologies can happily co-exist (we don’t need to use the same tech) as long as they are interoperable. Lego pieces are different shapes and sizes but use standards that mean they always can be fitted together, giving massive flexibility, scope for innovation and allowing a network of service providers to still give seamless experiences to end users). The 240v standard for domestic electricity means manufacturers can make electrical products knowing they will work in homes anywhere in the UK. That’s a powerful principle and an essential model if we are to create a new market for public service innovation that delivers outcomes differently and at lower cost.

So a key question for public services is: what are the 240v or Lego standards that we need to build, so creating the conditions for future service providers to confidently bring products to market?

That’s a crucial thing for local government to think about and prioritise as a sector.  Let’s not start with the Local Government Digital Service argument!  You can imagine the future commissioner’s simple specification: We operate on 240v, do you? We need agreed open data and technology standards. To talk about collaboration further up the food chain, such as business processes or single technologies, is the wrong place to start for our complicated system.

Capable People

For us, in our new Digital & Design service at Adur and Worthing, we will place an increasing emphasis on digital and design capabilities / skills. Not just for our D&D staff, but through developing a programme of ‘learning by doing’ for all staff and, increasingly, other stakeholders. I want the technology stuff to gradually move into the background as we adopt a thoroughly user-centred, not tech-centred design approach. We will develop a confidence, knowing what our tech capabilities are when designing and be able to bring technology to bear when it’s appropriate.

So all that having been said, my focus and obsession in the job has been this: Where do we start?

Building Blocks and Being Practical

When I arrived at Adur & Worthing in May 2014, it was clear we had a very traditional set up, albeit with some really good practice in our web team (we’ve had four stars in the Better Connected report for years). There was still a lot to do.

From May-July I did my own discovery work and the first priorities were very clear: network outages, disaster recovery processes and telephones, all of which we had significant problems with. I got specialists in to help with DR and worked with our IT colleagues (our infrastructure service is provided in a partnership with two other councils) to stabilize the network. I also worked with the telephony supplier, recently agreeing to part company. I began to look for a specialist technology partner to help me flesh out what I knew we must do: to move the whole organisation to new open, cloud-based technologies. I had been involved in innovative digital projects before which were incredibly challenging to establish in the councils I worked in. They had tended to “bounce off” after expending a lot of energy! I knew something deeper and more fundamental needed doing with council IT. The ‘monolith’ as I call it, needed moving. Through my network of contacts, I discovered James Herbert, Mark Thompson and their company Methods Digital.

So, in July 2014, I wrote a report for Committee that outlined the issues I’d found and what we needed to do next, securing funding to partner with Methods Digital for technology discovery and then blueprinting, taking us to an investment case for significant funding, successfully made to Committee in December. We worked really hard with the timing of the work and reports to ensure we kept a really good pace going and Methods started implementation with us on site in early January 2015, just six months after the first Committee report.

So, what have we decided to do?

We have established three key strands to the programme: productivity (email/office), platform (multi-channel engagement & end-to-end self-service) and telephony (fixed and mobile). Design, agile and open principles are core to the approach.

In the autumn we developed a capability map, and a target platform-based architecture. I was initially very keen to look at open source options for the new platforms, but it quickly became clear that we could make more rapid progress if we looked at selecting enterprise cloud platforms with great capabilities, their own ecosystems and open APIs. I learned that open standards were the important part. As a small authority, the other critical feature for me was always having platforms that we could build on cost effectively and rapidly, making sure not to find ourselves caught out for professional services costs in the long run.

We are very much at the beginning of this work, but I think we have made some exciting product selections:

  • Google for Work (already soft-launched)
  • Salesforce (for the contact centre)
  • Low code business process platform for the whole business
  • Cloud telephony (selection being finalized)
  • Android mobiles (tender out soon)

Our “Citizen Interaction Platform” (CIM) is a tightly integrated combination of Salesforce and the low code platform, providing us with a powerful but cost-effective platform to build on. Methods got the two products ‘talking’ last week and we’re all very excited about it!

Our first digital product on the CIM will be a “green bins” ordering service, allowing us to establish some core capabilities on the platform. Our aim is to then replace our first legacy ICT system (by June we think) by going on to digitize bulky waste, clinical waste etc. We expect to be able to increase momentum in the programme as our capabilities are established both in terms of the platform technologies and our people. We have 18 staff (mostly people with business analysis skills, rather than programming skills) being trained on the low code platform in April.

Importantly, we will also be doing a lot of work soon to create the “Design” part of our service and will be recruiting an experienced “Service Designer” to the team. I will very soon announcing who will set up and lead our new Digital & Design Service. This will be a huge step for us, because we know that our success will be built around very talented and committed people using great technologies but with user-centred design at the front and centre. We will introducing a new ‘people’ work strand around digital and design capability which will be very exciting and hugely important.

We already have some talented and energetic folk at Adur & Worthing and I’m really excited to see what they will do with the help of these new people and capabilities we are bringing in.

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