Recently I was proud to stand in front of the MJ Awards judging panel and present evidence to support being shortlisted for Digital Transformation. With the Awards ceremony approaching, this seems to be the right time to talk about our transformation journey and the way we are re-shaping Stockport Council.
Our digital transformation is as much about culture change as tech. It mirrors the values that we have introduced across our organisation. It’s about putting the people of Stockport at the heart of everything we do. It’s about investing in our workforce and new working practices. And about changing the way we work with our residents, businesses and communities to modernise the way people access council services.
We are designing services for a digital age where our citizens have 21st century expectations of customer service. When we redesign service delivery we look at every touchpoint with the customer, digital and all others.
This is why our strategy is different. We haven’t just spread a layer of digital technology across our existing processes and services. That would be like icing an old, stale sponge cake! We started afresh – building the layers of the cake before we iced it. What started 4 years ago as the Digital by Design Programme was just the first layer in a Council-wide transformation approach.
Investing in our workforce and new working practices
Technology is changing fast and the only certainty is that it will keep changing. From the start we wanted to build our own tech skills and capability to allow our transformation to continue to grow. We learned agile techniques which enabled us to rethink our processes and approach to delivering improvement across the Council, ensuring we are fast moving, transparent and place user need at the heart of everything we do. We learned how to build our own tech and developed a platform of common capabilities that can be reused to help manage demand and can be shaped around common service patterns. And our colleagues have new tools to help them better meet the needs of service-users, including new case management systems and dashboards to report and analyse data and help with decision making.
Putting the people of Stockport at the heart of everything we do
We’ve focussed on Service Design – improving services by putting people at the centre of what we do. The expectations and demands on council services have changed significantly since Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council was created in 1974. Traditionally developed from a technical and business perspective, services have evolved in response to new legislation or ineffective systems. They often haven’t been designed end-to-end from a citizen perspective. This illustration of one of our family’s experiences of accessing services in Stockport shows just how complex our services can seem when viewed through the customer’s eyes.
We recognise that everyone has experience to offer – people are experts in their own lives! So we are co-designing our services, with our citizens, our communities, our partners, and other public sector bodies; engaging, researching, testing, validating and generating ideas together.
Our digital transformation is about redesigning our services but it’s also about building digital skills across Stockport. Digital is as revolutionary today as electricity and water were to the Victorian era. If we don’t equip our residents and our workforce with the necessary digital skills, they will miss out in fully participating in the life of the town and on opportunities which could enrich their lives and those of their families.
Digital permeates everything, and we aim to ensure none of our residents are left behind. It’s not simply about tech skills, it’s about giving people across Stockport the same access to opportunities, reducing isolation and enabling more independent and resilient citizens and communities
We’ve created a Digital Inclusion Alliance to deliver digital support and skills through established and trusted community groups and organisations who are already providing social support. We’ve started a movement that should gather momentum and grow at a grass-roots level.
We are supporting this further with access to Wi-Fi and devices through our libraries and reception centre and our Stockport Local online directory signposts all community groups and events that offer digital skills training. We have also pioneered the introduction of The Duke of York’s iDEA scheme across Stockport.
We are already seeing the impact of our transformation. With 80% of contacts to the council now being digital, we are taking pressure off our contact centre and face to face appointments. Visits to our website are up 32% and more people are using mobile devices to browse our website than ever before. There have been over 50,000 sign-ups to My Account. By automating forms for Council Tax we have taken weeks off the process, greatly improving the customer experience and stopping families falling deeper into debt.
In our Children’s Services, new mobile working tools and practices enable our mobile workers to access and input information on the move, reducing the need to return to the office and increasing the time spent with residents. This has reduced waiting times, improved the level of information we can offer residents in their homes and we also get great feedback from our social workers on using new tech with children. And the recent Ofsted inspection praised the new digital referral forms to raise concerns about children which speed up response.
As with all Local Authorities we are facing unprecedented financial challenges and using digital to deliver routine services more efficiently benefits our frontline services in these straitened times. As more enquiries are handled digitally, more colleague resource can be focused on support for our more vulnerable residents and more complex cases, so our residents benefit whether they are online or not.
The winner of the MJ Digital Transformation Award will be announced on 26th June, but whatever the result, it is great to be involved in this process and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved and committed to continuing our transformation to ensure we are fit for the future and prepared for whatever may lie around the corner.