When government published its first digital strategy, it carried a warning that people would only choose to use services digitally if they were more straightforward and convenient to use than traditional methods.
Information would need to be quicker and easier to access, transactions speedier and access to services on the move a given.
Successful digital services would also be underpinned by having a strong, clear digital strategy in place.
London Borough of Hackney was one of the first local authorities to understand the importance of developing an effective strategy for taking its services online and putting residents’ needs at the heart of service design through its Digital Engagement Programme.
Gillian Wheeldon, Head of eBusiness at Hackney tells us:
“The digitisation of Hackney’s services has enabled the council to become more efficient, and helped us to improve customer services and reduce costs.”
Single point of access
Part of its programme has been to launch the One Account web portal, delivered with Capita, to provide a single gateway for customers to access online services.
Once registered, the portal will let residents apply for new services and track the progress of existing transactions, eliminating the need to wait or queue, from one easily-accessible point. It gives residents a personalised, interactive and secure 24/7 online channel through which they can transact with the council across a range of departments. It also gives them more choice in how they access council services.
The portal – accessible via the council’s website – went live for revenues and benefit services in November 2015, less than four months from the start of the development phase. Since then, more than 2,500 Hackney residents have registered for the portal, and the council has told us that they expect this number to increase significantly following wider promotion of the service in the coming months.
Further council services, such as housing, building repairs and waste management, will be made available to Hackney residents via the portal throughout 2016.
Five tips for implementing a customer access portal from Gillian Wheeldon, Head of eBusiness, London Borough of Hackney:
1. Put residents first. We embedded a customer-focused culture by putting residents’ needs at the centre of our digital strategy.
2. Put a strategy in place. We developed an effective strategy with Capita for bringing services online that took account of residents’ expectations and priorities now and in the future.
3. Build it well. We put as much focus on the back-end functionality of the One Account portal as on the front-end design of the service.
4. Ensure accuracy of residents' information. We made sure that the resident data sitting within the portal was accurate and up to date to allow for a seamless online experience for residents.
5. Learn from others. We looked at what other public and private sector organisations were doing to digitise their processes and learned from their success stories.
Benefits to the council
For the council, the One Account portal provides valuable customer insights, which means staff can tailor advice and services to individuals’ needs.
It also creates a single repository of data on each resident, across all services, so that Hackney can better predict future customer demands and trends. This, in turn, could help the council to continuously improve customer experience.
It will also allow staff to identify the most vulnerable residents, and those with more complex needs, and spend more time working with them.
Hackney Council’s One Account portal offers a blueprint for how local authorities can develop their digital services.
People expect to be able to access a range of services from a single log-in, in a similar way to how they interact with online retailers and manage their online banking. Just as customers can view their various bank accounts without having to remember numerous log-ins and account credentials, they expect to have a single point of contact for all council transactions.
Public sector organisations must respond accordingly, and embrace digitisation to meet the expectations of residents. But it is also vital that they develop an effective strategy to deliver better online services.
It is with a clear strategy in place, taking on board lessons learned from others and by taking the time to ‘build well,’ that councils can provide enhanced services for residents and deliver better returns on investment.