A technology investment from 2019 is now playing a key role in developing a new customer service strategy at Birmingham City Council.
Speaking with UKAuthority, its technology leadership team explain the importance of Birmingham's BRUM account, which provides city council forms and for payments and connects to the council customer relationship management (CRM) system, so citizens can manage their council tax, benefits or request services.
It grew significantly in terms of citizen numbers and usage during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns – registrations now total 500,000 in a city of 1.14 million – and this is now "turbocharging" the next generation of customer service.
Peter Bishop, Birmingham’s director digital and customer services, describes BRUM as a 21st century service that ensures that the city's residents can interact with the council safely and securely.
"We have been able to deliver more and at pace, so now there is a much closer connection between the city councillors and residents than existed previously," he says.
"If we had not had the BRUM account, we wouldn't have been able to distribute the enormous amounts of business grants that the Government asked us to do (during the pandemic). We paid about £317 million in grants, so we paid out more than we probably collected."
Art of the possible
Bishop adds that the pandemic exposed that many in local government had not understood "the art of the possible" that technology offered to their organisations and citizens. As a result, the technology was not fully exploited before the pandemic, but now it is, he says.
Inevitably, take-up of digital local government services increased during the pandemic lockdowns, and Birmingham’s head of online service delivery Sheraz Yaqub, says there are no signs of a post-lockdown decline.
"At peak times, we are processing 30,000 transactions. I think it is safe to say that we are seeing the take-up of the digital channel," he says.
Capitalising on the new digital relationship the council has with its citizens, the host city for the 2022 Commonwealth Games has launched a new customer service strategy, for which the BRUM account will be the underpinning technology and service.
"We want to create a shift in how we think about and interact with you so that you are at the centre of everything we do," the council says on its website announcing the strategy.
"BRUM account is the technology platform for being able to provide those excellent online experiences that council want to provide for our citizens by giving them some key information in one place, that is easy to access and it's easy for us to scale," says Cheryl Doran, assistant director IT of the platform, which was developed on Jadu low code technology.
Low code library
Yaqub adds that the digitisation of internal processes accelerated during the pandemic lockdowns, with the council using a library of low code library of application features, some developed by other local authorities, that comes with the platform.
Bishop adds: "The pandemic has turbocharged the online world, and we want to exploit the functionality that we already had to help that turbocharging of the council's ambitions for how IT services its needs."
Doran says the BRUM account has enabled the council to see where it can improve customer service and, having gained so many new users during the pandemic lockdowns, and seen a change in behaviour by citizens, Birmingham is taking the opportunity to review the customer service strategy.
Yaqub says that personalisation of services is one element, along with the application of user-centric design principles. Using a resident's postcode, BRUM can ensure the information on waste and recycling collection dates is correct and tailored to the citizen, an important feature in a city as large as Birmingham. If a resident has to scroll through pages and pages of information for every area of the city, it is a poor online experience and, in the long term, could prompt a move away from using the council's technology offering.
"We are now putting the whole organisation behind that user-centred approach," Bishop says.
Doran adds that the customer service strategy is "being developed out in the open", with the council blogging and sharing insights into the iterative developments and at all times asking the citizens of the city to respond and get involved.
There have also been benefits in improving operations.
"We've got a phase of robotic process automation (RPA) being developed," Bishop says, adding that increasing the levels of digitisation across the council and its services is a key component of the new customer service strategy.
Already the council has over two million customer cases being tracked through the BRUM account and has 2.7 million digital forms being used, which automates processes and reduces the cost base of the local authority.
Bishop says as the new customer service strategy develops, the council will be able to proactively deliver street cleaning and traffic management, either in response to requests from its citizens or from insights derived from better information management.
The BRUM account and customer service strategy are among the results of Birmingham City Council exiting a major joint venture agreement with Capita in 2017. Bishop says: " The large IT managed service provider that we had was not designed to be an agile environment. Now that we have full control we have the talent to really turbocharge our response to putting customers first."