1998

 

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

IT EXCELLENCE

 

Award

 

 

 

 

 

Local Service Strategy

London Borough of Newham

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beckton Globe : Location of the first of 6 Local Service Centres, "making Newham a place where people want to live, work and stay".

 

 

 

Service Improvement from IT Excellence

  1. Description

The project is to create ´┐Żan integrated network, bringing a seamless range of public information and services´┐?/B> to support Newham´┐Żs first Local Service Centre. It uses a Customer Database to provide a full case history of customer contact, performance monitoring with on-line links to legacy systems and correspondence files.

Objectives

In May 1997, Newham introduced a new Vision to make Newham a place "where people choose to live, work and stay". Central to achieving this aim is transforming customer services and achieving Best Value.

In June 1998 the first of 6 Local Service Centres opened, with new generic staff fully supported by an innovative IT infrastructure. The aim is to use IT to enable staff to provide a personal service, strengthening links to the local community.

The initial object was to create a ´┐ŻCorporate Database´┐?to enable customer services staff to access detailed information for each customer, currently held in departmentally based separate systems. This would eliminate the need to constantly demand data already provided and enable a total response to be adopted. Replacing all systems was too high a risk so, instead, a ´┐Żvirtual´┐?database was proposed. Existing legacy systems were retained (on ICL VME, Unix and Windows platforms) but integrated via a Data Warehouse containing one set of name and address data. This required all existing systems data to be updated a common address format, a sub set of BS 7666. Using Address Point enabled a link to be created to map based data via a GIS system.

In addition to system links, we could record all visits or telephone calls to the Council, the type of problem, and provide a full case history . This has to be available to all LSC staff and the proposed central Call Centre to provide meaningful responses. Full performance data is necessary to monitor follow-up activity.

Customer services staff require links Housing and Finance Section correspondence across the network via Document Imaging. Staff will recall letters and application forms to view progress. As the Document Imaging system is rolled out corporately more departments will be brought on-line. It will also enable application forms to be submitted directly from the LSC into queues at the processing centres, eliminating postal delays and lost forms. E-mail is also proposed to send simple queries and interface with other bodies (enabling a true one-stop approach).

In addition to the Customer Database, it is essential to develop a simple ´┐Żfront end´┐?to existing legacy systems. These systems are complex and difficult to learn. If staff are to really help the public, they must be able to access a sub-set of essential information. Wherever possible data is to be collated onto one screen and, when updating, input made to one system only to minimise time wasted.

Process and general information for customer services staff is required and a development of the Intranet planned. Although most queries (80%) will be handled via the LSC, there will be cases where expert advice is needed. Newham proposed to use Lewisham´┐Żs Tellytalk system to link to the back offices. Each LSC would also be equipped with the award winning touch screen ATTACH kiosks.

Problems

The project combines the best of current technology - communications, database design and client-server integration - to exploit its existing legacy systems by integrating the data and systems around the Citizen. This inevitably resulted in a highly complex project combining varied technology:

  1. Customer Contact Database - in-house development
  2. Document Imaging - ICLIPSE package implementation
  3. Customer Services Front End - ICL LG Vision bespoke development
  4. Intranet - inhouse design
  5. Data Warehouse - joint pilot project with ICL and Oracle
  6. 155Mb ATM Network and Cat 5 cabling - in house design
  7. Video Conferencing (Telly talk) - Lewisham and Technology Store Design
  8. ATTACH touch screen kiosks - joint Oracle-Newham development

The major problem was timescales. With the LSC due to open in June, systems had to be completed, fully tested and operational by this date. In addition, staff required systems training. This ruled out a ´┐Żbig bang´┐?replacement of all systems in favour of a modular approach. This required us to make extensive use of partners and dramatically increased project complexity. In return, it gave us the flexibility to replace modules at a later date, without displacing the strategy. This is significant as ´┐ŻBest Value´┐?has increased the rate of change, including use of external partners, but our architecture could accommodate it. Using leading edge technology, standards based systems and true client-server systems maximised flexibility and compatibility.

Project Control and Key Measures

With the complexity and number of partners it was essential to have good project management. The project was co-ordinated centrally using Microsoft Project but each partner was responsible for their own component. A central Project Board consisting of the Chief Executive and Directors received regular reports from the Project Officer covering the Local Service Strategy and the IT project.

The main object of the Local Service Strategy is to transform customer services and the IT project is to supports that aim. Since its June opening (5 weeks), the centre has received 1,922 queries. Of these, all customers (100%) thought the staff were polite and helpful, 93% thought staff explained the information very well and 92% were seen immediately. In all 93% thought the service was very good and 7% good. This indicates that the project is a major success and the IT systems are supporting the staff in achieving their objects.

Lessons

This project highlights that IT can be a major driver to achieving a corporate vision. IT systems do not have to focus on the back office alone. Innovative technology can drive change but, only as part of a wider change management project. IT is now central to the whole Council´┐Żs objectives. The project also highlights that technology should not change for the sake of change. The strategy is to put new life into existing legacy systems as far as possible. Finally, the project highlights that partnership is the way forward but with the council firmly in the driving seat.

Staff Involvement

The introduction of Local Service Centres (LSC) is not an IT project but a fundamental re-engineering of Council services into ´┐Żfront´┐?and ´┐Żback´┐?office operations. The success of the project was dependant upon the management of change and a move away from departmental structure.

The Council devised a ´┐ŻTop Managers´┐?Programme´┐?(TMP) involving 166 of the Council´┐Żs Senior Managers. Over a 12 month period, attendees were split into groups and asked to examine key management issues. Four groups focused on the LSC´┐Żs and looked at IT, Human Resources, Location and Community Involvement. The groups were selected at random and were multi-disciplinary. This enabled a breadth of knowledge, experience and professional skills to be brought to bear.

In practice, the TMP groups utilised colleagues´┐?wealth of experience to challenge traditional professional ´┐ŻBaronies´┐? The group looking at IT, devised a Service Assessment Module (SAM) for mapping Council process operations. Using this information, it was possible to integrate certain functions (benefits claims and free schools meals for example) and devise cut-off points between the front and back office. This is the first step towards a ´┐Żlife episode´┐?based approach which should involve all public services, not just the Council.

Using the multi-disciplinary TMP groups enabled professional and departmental conflicts to be minimised. Staff at all levels felt involved. The work culminated in an ´┐Żawayday´┐?at which the groups presented their findings. At all points, the work on the TMP project was publicised via special TMP and departmental newsletters. Many staff were able to view the centre via the ´┐ŻRegeneration Tour´┐?which was devised to take staff around the Borough to view new developments such as the Beckton LSC.

Partners

The project could not have been conceived without the assistance of our partners.

The Customer Database used Oracle SQL Server, Version 7.3, and follows a joint ICL-Oracle-Newham Team which has worked on the Data Warehouse (Address Database) project. The customer tracking system was designed by ICL but programming was completed by DP Connect, working under the direct supervision of Newham Project Management. The customer services screens used Active Server Pages - HTML files with embedded VB script - using Microsoft Information Server Version 4.0 and Internet Explorer 4.01. The front end to legacy systems was developed by ICL to a Newham design using LG Vision. Video Conferencing uses the Lewisham TellyTalk system which we are jointly enhancing for the use of ethnic languages forms with Technology Store. Finally, the kiosk system was developed as part of the pan-European ATTACH project involving partners from Greece, Sweden, Holland, France as well as the Metropolitan Police.

Conclusions

This is a pioneering programme to provide improved community links through better information exchange and public service. It modernises Council services by eliminating departmentalism using innovative service delivery and best practice.