Blog 03 July 2020

Councils prove that change is a verb, not a project

by Netcall


In April, our CTO Richard Billington blogged on ‘Has time to market ever been more important for app development?’ where he touched upon wonderful examples of collaboration that had drastically reduced time to market caused by the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A sector that we have worked closely with and watched in admiration as they innovated and adapted in reaction to the crisis, is local government. In this blog, we highlight some of the council stories that show the incredible power of low-code in addressing critical needs during the COVID-19 event. 

Operational flexibility can boost productivity

The immediate shutdown of the UK in March forced most organisations to make instant changes to operations, staff and customer communications. Several realised they did not have the ability or systems to move quickly. Others already had the skills, tools and experience to pivot, adapt, communicate and continue in a new way. These organisations emerged as leaders, showing that real change is possible. And that it can be done very quickly.

Many councils, using Liberty Create low-code to transform their processes and systems, emerged with positive, useful applications, which they built rapidly to support their communities and staff in a time of need. Their work was quick, accomplished and practical. Honestly, it was inspiring: proof positive of digital transformation, in spite of the urgency and severity of the new circumstances. Here are some of the stand out stories:

Croydon Council

Croydon Council designed a Business Grants app to help manage business applications and payments for distribution of grant money from central Government to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in their area. As a completely new grant, there was no process or system in place to manage this. The app enables local businesses to apply for grants of up to £25,000.

Croydon Council became a Liberty Create customer in February. They had a development plan for new applications to build on that platform but COVID-19 changed their plans very quickly and they used the Create tool kit for new purposes, like this business grants app.

The app took 120 hours of development time from scratch. This included some foundation building, like branding, styling and single sign on, which would have existed before, if this wasn’t their first app.

The app is comprehensive. It includes data import from their business rates system, the creation of SMS and secure email messages to send to businesses asking for confirmation of details, a case management workflow for authorisations, fraud checks, the ability to send the payments to the businesses and follow up communications.

There were up to 5,000 businesses in their area that were eligible for the grant and the council received over 500 applications through the new system within the first 12 hours. Since it launched, at the end of March, Croydon Council has used it to distribute over £10m to businesses.

The alternative for Croydon or other councils, may have been Excel spreadsheets. This new capability proved vital as the council rose to the challenge. The app was uploaded to the Netcall AppShare, making it available for other councils to download, personalise and make use of themselves.

Sharing is caring

Meanwhile, South Hams and West Devon (SHWD) Councils were in the process of signing up to Liberty Create. Their team were able to fast track their adoption and roll-out of Create by using the COVID-19 apps. With just a week to develop and deploy a new Business Rates Relief solution, SHWD downloaded the app designed by Croydon and adapted this to its own requirements.

This gave us a fantastic start, we were then able to build on Croydon’s app, and with a little technical help from Netcall we were able to deploy a live process that suited our requirements in less than a week from taking delivery of the Liberty Create program. The new app also saved the SHWD Case Management team time by automating as much of the business logic as possible, enabling us to make urgently needed payments. AppShare is a great concept and we are looking forward to sharing our own processes with other councils in the near future.

Mike Ward, Head of IT Practice at South Hams and West Devon Councils

The head start enabled the team to focus on building the process map and user interface and start testing within a day.

Adur & Worthing Councils

Adur & Worthing Councils have been successfully using low-code for many years and have a small team of experienced Liberty Create builders. Using the platform, they have already shown that they can transform existing services and that digital change can truly be people-centred, implementing services that are great user experiences. They have built systems to improve tenant services with housing repairs, introduced agile development for Waste services, improved asset management and created a portal for GP patients to improve information sharing between all agencies dealing with individual patients (read the full Adur & Worthing story here). They have also led the way in collaborating with other councils, sharing their experience and inspiring others, as well as developing several apps on our AppShare.

Then, in the COVID-19 crisis, they stepped up again. They built a Volunteer Co-ordination App to provide digital support to match and administer those who need community support with those who volunteered to help.

Some of the area’s remarkable informal volunteering groups were struggling to stay organised, and had limited connectivity into formal sectors. This Volunteer Co-ordination app connected people who need the help, to volunteers and organisations wanting to provide it. It includes a registration for volunteers and community support requests, classification of types of support, matching support to local volunteer resource and co-ordination with community services.

Cumbria County Council

Cumbria County Council have achieved a lot with Liberty Create in the 12 months since they began building in low-code. With a team of four people, they achieved a huge total of 16 projects, proving that it is 5 to 10 times faster to deliver digital projects in low-code. Read the full Cumbria County Council story here.

They have also created apps to share with the community during the COVID-19 crisis. Their app to ensure frontline council services receive the PPE they need allows local organisations to make a PPE request, including details about what they need and how long their current supply will last.

The app has helped teams co-ordinate the delivery of 526,000 items of PPE to more than 50 care homes in a timely and effective manner, ensuring there is a central record of requests and how these have been fulfilled, replacing manual spreadsheets and emails. To be able to support in ensuring front line staff have the equipment that they need to continue to provide services to our most vulnerable customers has been hugely rewarding for the team and we are pleased to be able to share this with other local authorities.

Kate Hurr, Digital and Innovation Manager at Cumbria County Council

2020 isn’t cancelled. It’s the year of rapid change.

When ongoing operations are severely disrupted it either exposes a lack of flexibility. Or, as these leading lights have shown, with the right tools, staff and approach, rapid innovation and change can be achieved. The public sector has proved that rapid change is possible, laying down the gauntlet to other sectors to advance their digital agendas.

Change is now happening very fast. Despite the immense challenges that organisations are managing today, now is the time to act.

Learn more


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