Blog 22 July 2022

Ashfield District Council shares 5 lessons learned on their journey to digital

by Lynley Meyers

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Legacy applications that are not designed for the modern digital age are preventing councils from making progress on their digital ambitions. The digital supplier market is holding local government back. But low-code and robotic process automation are enabling councils to break free, innovate and move forward. One council shares their digital journey so far.

We collaborated with Ashfield District Council at the Digital Leaders event to demonstrate how we’re putting transformation back into the hands of local authorities to enable their digital autonomy.

Vicky Green is Digital Programme Manager at Ashfield District Council. As a District council, they have a limited amount of resources — and a lot of legacy systems. These are expensive and very reliant on suppliers to help them work. And this can be frustrating.

The council’s strategy going forward is to move as much as possible to the cloud. Their legacy systems don’t allow them to do that. And they’ve also got a lot of silo working.

The digital team at Ashfield wanted to bring the digital transformation of all their service areas together. They wanted to promote team working rather than silo departmental working. And they wanted to remove purchasing of disjointed systems.

They also wanted to empower departmental colleagues to be able to look after their own systems. And, they wanted to engage with customers.

Ashfield is using Citizen Hub to realise these ambitions, which are now well underway. They started small but they are already seeing savings of £100,000 (which are only set to grow). Vicky shares her five lessons learned and steps to success:


1. Capacity


Our first lesson was having the right capacity. This means having the right people at the right time. We are a relatively small team. And, initially, we did not have the right people in place.

Anyone starting out on their journey should ensure there is a team in place — with colleagues to build or design apps and manage the projects. And it’s important to have business analysts who can interact with departments, understand their needs and work in a multifunctional way with the builder/developers.


2. Blueprint


We started out blindly. We were convinced we could get forms done and the rest would just unfold. Having the blueprint of where we want to be in three years in place, gives us structure, direction and purpose. Before, departments would bring in expectations from left-field and that would cause work priorities to shift rapidly. It could be quite confusing.

Instead, now with a committed blueprint, you know what your priorities are. You can work around everything else and you know when you need to bring in more people to actually respond to everything that’s coming in.


3. Responsiveness


Of course, we are responsive. Now, with our blueprint we can weigh the benefits of changing priorities. This helps us explain the implications of change to our stakeholders. It’s fair and clear for everyone.

We’ve had examples of digital solutions jumping the queue due to their express benefits. It’s an easier conversation as the benefits are outweighed over doing something else.

In an agile environment our team are learning not to be afraid of being responsive. Local council life is never static — using Liberty and agile means we can now flexibly accommodate change. It took us all a little while to get our heads around this.


4. Communication


This is an essential skill within the team and with stakeholders.

First, for the team. Especially when you’ve got a team of developers working on different projects. They all need to talk to each other regularly, and need to know what each other is working on. This is especially important on a platform like Liberty Create.

The agile nature of the platform means it’s crucial that everyone communicates and follows the agreed build process. This is low code, it’s not no code (read our low code vs. no code blog for more!). The team has benefited from us having our software development policies — which makes sure everyone’s on the same page. When it’s not in place, you could have people working in different aspects of the same solution, changing different things. Everyone needs to follow a coordinated approach to build, test, and live.

Second, communication with stakeholders is essential for roll-out success and continuous improvement. Keep your lines of communication open, engage as a multifunctional team and your delivery will move faster and be more successful.


5. Ask for help


Finally, it can be easy to forget to ask for help. Everyone is so busy and can feel they should be able to solve this themselves. This was one of our biggest lessons.

As a council we’re in it together — with every other council. Netcall has a Forum and a Community. We learned that the next person may have the answer you need. Go onto the forum, ask your question and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the responses.

I think that was one thing we’re really, really pleased about is the fact that we know that if you ask a question you’ll get a response and the help that’s needed.

And user councils are working together, it’s absolutely brilliant. The Netcall support has been spot-on so I couldn’t fault that at all. The big thing is to remember that it’s only a click away, you don’t have to struggle on your own. So just ask the questions when needed.


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