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A Guide to Cost Efficient Service Delivery

For local councils, “doing more with less” has been the focus of the last few years. With austerity measures and the impact of the COVID pandemic, public services continue to face an environment that requires inventive approaches to serving their citizens.

The challenges are abundant and felt at all levels. Reduced budgets, council tax reductions, losses from non-tax income and business tax income alike. Meanwhile rising demand and pinch points supporting the vulnerable in areas such as health and social services leave councils in a difficult situation.

Yet, according to APSE, trust in councils has increased in the last year, with 79% of those surveyed satisfied with their council’s response to demand during the lockdown.

Council staffs learned to adapt to the changes of austerity and, during COVID, adapted to the pace of those changes increasing thanks to the impact of digital services. By establishing efficiencies through digital service, councils are increasingly able to meet the demands of a digital-first citizenry while reducing costs and, in some cases, even increasing revenues as a result.

It’s important to remember that digital self-service isn’t just another channel of communication or tool for governments. It focuses on an end-to-end user journey starting with need and ending with resolution. It’s a whole approach to itself.

Councils that take an end-to-end digital delivery approach find that they no longer bog their staff down with menial work, allowing them more time to deliver high value in complex specialist tasks. They save money on paper and printing. And, when properly integrated across an organization, break down silos across departments to make access to information easier for citizens looking for self-service solutions.

The Four Pillars of End-to-End Digital Service Delivery 

For those councils that have seen their investment in digital services provide the most impact in increasing support and response, an end-to-end philosophy of digital service delivery has proven to be the best way to increase choice and convenience, improve access, and reduce both costs and demand.

Through reviewing these programs, four key elements provide a clear path to greater success in creating efficient digital service delivery.

Pillar 1: Put Users at the Heart of Service Delivery and Savings Will Follow  

When approaching digital services, “users” can refer to staff, as well as citizens. One of the areas where digital services can make an immediate savings impact is in internal processes.

Considering what staff needs, allows an opportunity to identify and remove unnecessary costs and make a digital-first approach.

Finding ways to digitise internal processes, can also benefit the citizen user. Digitising paper forms and making them available online or automating common communications provides a chance to reduce staff demand answering citizen calls while also empowering citizens with self-service options.

One easy way to achieve success in this area is identifying ways to remove demand by focusing on need. Can processes be created where a citizen in need never has to interact with staff? Removing unnecessary contacts saves money while helping educate and empower citizens.

Telford Council took this type of proactive approach in their digital campaign welcoming new residents. Starting with a message that addresses common questions for someone moving into a new home, such as bin and recycling information, the campaign then continues to provide regular community-related communication in bite-sized chunks.

In doing so, the council establishes a positive relationship with new citizens engaging with them on issues from wellness and wellbeing while also connecting with common government services that help reduce calls and questions when needs arise.

Nottingham City Council takes a similar approach with their simplified online forms for Adult Social Care. Keeping forms reduced to relevant and focused information allows a process that feels personalised and, in a way, humanises what could otherwise be seen as a faceless government process.

Pillar 2: Manage Demand by Focusing on Resolution 

Rare is the person who says, “I want to take as long as possible to resolve my issue.” An increasingly digital world has created expectations for rapid resolution of everything from food orders to clothing deliveries.

So it should come as no surprise that citizens are expecting faster resolution to their demands from their local council. Digital services provide the tools to manage demand by focusing on a the most efficient path to resolution, often through self-service solutions.

From the citizen point of view, this promotion of self-service can be seen as a convenience. But it also encourages the idea of self-education and empowerment that saves time and cost demands on council staff.

One way to identify opportunities to make this change is to look at common processes that put demand on staff. Where are the common pain points? Is there a form that is overly complicated, an area of a website where information is incomplete or steps that are presented in a way that forces a citizen to give up and just call with their questions?

Identifying these pain points where complicated forms or interactions require too much citizen effort provides the starting point to re-evaluating and streamlining processes. Digital services can help create automation, using such tools as intelligent forms, to guide end-to-end digital journeys. Removing unnecessary human contact creates an opportunity for self-sufficiency that reduced staff time demands and encourages citizens to engage with digital services again in the future thanks to a positive experience.

Plymouth City Council, an early adopter of digital self-services, used this approach to better understand and manage performance, but also promote and reallocate resources in order to find ways to remove pain points that increased demand on staff. That focus lead to an improved citizen experience, including a reduction of lead times for Housing Benefits by almost half (from over 30 days to 17).

But the shift also created an improvement in staff allocations and resources by eradicating queues in the customer service shop, allowing staff to focus on higher value tasks, and lead to a payroll reduction from £8.36 million to £6.2 million.

Pillar 3: Maximize Efficiency by Automating and Integrating 

Many councils might look at digital services as a means to solve demand issues or bring efficiencies to a specific area. But taking a broader approach to automation and integration can result in digital services maximising efficiencies across multiple council departments. By using a holistic approach to workflow in order to join up communication across siloed groups, digital services can help stop intermittent communications, reduce duplicate forms, PDFs, or emails, and help send citizens directly to the information they need.

Joining up these data silos, again, not only helps improve the customer experience, but provides a streamlined internal system that provides cost savings to the council budget.

Milton Keynes took this approach early in their digital services development. By identifying 11 key systems that dealt with high call volume calls, they were able to focus on integrating processes in those departments, creating a streamlined system for customers, but also realising an overall cost savings of £900,000.

The impact of this approach can also have benefits on a variety of departments. Kirklees created a completely automated system for waste permits that leveraged databases to confirm address, contact and other information. This system received a 92% positive user experience rating, thanks to its seamless and frictionless process, and delivered £180,000 of efficiency savings. Many of those savings came from a shift to paperless billing, reducing costs on postage, printing and paper.

Pillar 4: Data and Insight: Iterate to Improve 

Taking a human-focused approach to digital service delivery is an important key to providing an effective experience. But balancing a data-driven mindset with that approach is the other vital component for success.

Data not only provides the evidence of just how effectively digital services are impacting both citizen experiences, but the Council’s bottom line, it also provides the insights into what areas can be further automated and streamlined, or shifted in a different direction.

The combination of data and a human focus can create a culture shift in how councils approach serving their citizens. The more thorough the data, the greater the understanding of citizen behaviours. This creates a strong ground from which to make data-driven decisions that can result in iterative changes to refine and improve digital service deliveries.

New AI-based APIs can help create data dashboards that are scalable to a council’s needs, providing insightful snapshots of processes. But it’s important to remember that neither processes nor internal cultures dramatically change in the blink of an eye.  Successes in one area should not necessarily be assumed to instantly succeed in another. Nor should a missed target or underwhelming change be seen as a failure of digital services as a whole.

Data, and the insights it provides, is not the final step of a digital process. It is the beginning of the next cycle that will repeat again through these four ongoing pillars. Consolidating data and insight allows a way to benchmark, strategise and adjust as needed.

Taking a Corporate Approach 

Much like large corporations working to remain agile and resilient in response to market trends, government organisations find themselves trying to meet citizen needs while adapting to budget crunches. For digital services to bring the efficiencies and savings to local governments requires an amount of human transformation as well.

Understanding how digital services can impact workflow as well as bottom line requires a holistic approach to change. One that positions digital services as a change agent that addresses the whole work process and business model.

For many, the COVID pandemic reinforced the idea that change and innovation needs to be championed from the top, and by the entire organisation. As digital services continue to become a necessary part of local government interactions, that same leadership will create an environment where digital services will have the greatest chance to change not only processes but cultures.

One way to make that case is to identify the areas where digital services will repay investment and capture savings throughout the process. Three Rivers District Council showcased this by illustrating how digitising their garden waste process created £400,00 in efficiency savings, almost as much as the income they generated in the same year. Looking at the impact that digital services can have makes it easier to embark on that journey.

Discover how automating processes and increasing digital services can create efficiencies for citizens and savings in time and money for council staff!  Get in touch.