Simplifying councils’ frontline and back office integration

Industry voice: Ian Robson, business development manager at Pythagoras, describes an approach for local and regional government to redesign services and provide a foundation for new technologies.

Across the country, local authorities are transforming the way in which they deliver services to their customers, with a focus on digital delivery, and building upon digital platforms to take advantage of emerging technologies such as bots and artificial intelligence (AI).

Legislative responsibilities on councils mean that most deliver the same services but in different ways, determined by their demographics, politics, and regional strategies.

Another key factor is the functionality, or otherwise, provided by the legacy back office applications which facilitate key business delivery such as Revenues and Benefits, Childrens’ and Adults’ Social Services and even Electoral Registration. The same customers appear many times in these different back office applications, often without any cross-indexing between them.

It is essential that the new digital platforms being introduced by local authorities across the country are able to integrate the front end digital platforms with these back office systems.

With multiple solution providers of these back office solutions, the integration process required for one back office solution is likely to be very similar as for another, but, even when the supplier is the same, it is always necessary to take account of the small differences – details such as version numbers of the software and whether the APIs are available for a successful connection.

Dealing with these differences often creates a large cost, which makes a significant difference in the prospects for a positive return on investment from a transformation. Councils under extreme financial pressure have to maximise the RoI, and provide a robust business case based upon the investment required in digital technologies, in order to give rise to substantial savings, often, nowadays, savings enabled by reductions in staff numbers.

Those similarities, however, provide a lot of scope to reduce the effort and costs involved in  integrating systems, and to make things easier for a council to design its processes around a core system.

This has been the thinking behind the development of Evolve LRG, a CRM and portal solution from Pythagoras that provides for a smooth and cost-effective integration of Microsoft Dynamics 365 with a wide range of back office systems.

Tapping into benefits

Evolve LRG has been designed specifically for local government as a means to tap rapidly into all the benefits of Microsoft Dynamics 365, the cloud based platform that brings the capabilities of high quality CRM and provides an easy integration with the broader range of Microsoft tools.

Evolve LRG sits on Dynamics 365 and the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, to pull together a wide range of data, simplify processes and reduce system costs. It has been developed with a handful of local authorities under an ‘early adopter’ programme that has proved the similarities and shown how best to deal with the differences.

A key strength is that it is a self-configurable solution, through which it is possible to design digital services through a drag and drop approach rather than complex coding. This means that business analysts and service leaders can take the lead in designing services without the previous reliance on skills within the IT department; and this makes it easier to ensure that services really match the needs of citizens.

It makes use of a number of digital modules, such as geolocation, payment and identification functions, which can be dropped onto the foundation module and arranged according to the desired business process. These can all be linked to the core functions within Dynamics 365 – such as customer services, project and field services, and talent management – and the services available through Azure, such as those for apps, cognitive computing, machine learning and the Azure Service Bus for messaging between front and back office systems.

It can also hook up to the Unified Service Desk for contact centre telephony, and Microsoft productivity tools including Office 365, SharePoint, Power BI and Social Engagement. And there is scope for easy integration with popular third party solutions for functions such as revenues and benefits, and geographical information systems (GIS).

All of this can be rapidly configured to ensure that any request for information or services goes to the right team within an organisation, or if necessary, to a contractor or third party service supplier.

Repurposing for mobile

Another important feature is that all the services designed for a website are automatically repurposed to work effectively on any mobile device, responding to the public’s choice and the growth of bring you own device inside organisations. And the portal is pre-built, so an authority can design the services to interact with it and provide its own branding as it desires.

This architecture provides benefits at a number of levels. Firstly, the reusable code for different modules has already been thoroughly tested to ensure they can integrate smoothly with others. This lays the ground for the drag and drop approach to service design and saves dramatically on the time needed for testing, development and maintenance.

Secondly, while Pythagoras provides the consultancy services for the initial implementation, this involves a skills transfer which enables an authority to become self-sufficient much more quickly, and thereby deliver rapid RoI.

It provides for a three-pronged business case, in the RoI from rapid implementation, the transfer of skills in-house, and the ability over time to replace specialist back office applications with equivalent functions within Dynamic 365 – laying the ground for more long term savings.

Benefits to customers include better 24/7 self-service, real time service request updates, the scope for community participation through online networks and forums, and the means to create digital communities of care to support people in need.

Platform for the future

It also provides scope to harness new technologies as they develop. There is a lot of excitement in local government around the potential for bots, machine learning, artificial intelligence and the internet of things, but they need an effective platform on which they can operate and a set of processes from which they can learn. The APIs needed to integrate these with Azure are already in place, making it possible to apply them to processes operating through the platform.

With this capability, Evolve LRG equips a council with a platform for the future, providing the foundation to use these new technologies and support their evolution.

The investment itself is a relatively straightforward process, as the platform is available through G-Cloud with a simple licensing model, the cost of which is determined by a combination of the type  of local authority (Unitary, Tier 1 County Council, or Tier 2 District/Borough) and the size of the population it serves. 

On a broad scale Evolve LRG meets the priorities of local and regional government, taking advantage of the common approaches used in frontline and back office integration, whilst simplifying the steps needed to deal with local requirements, and laying the ground for continued transformation through new technologies.

Evolve LRG, the new digital platform transforming citizen services, will be launched at The Shard in London on 18 April. Join the event here.