Industry voice: King’s Lynn & West Norfolk is driving efficiency savings and improving digital services by building its own eforms in IEG4’s eDesigner
Five years ago the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk (BCKLWN) started its journey to provide online services to its residents and today provides a user-friendly end-to-end digital service for all its main functions including housing benefit and council tax. What is interesting is that a focus on knowledge transfer means that customer service experts are now building their own eforms and even sharing these forms with other councils, thereby collaborating and combining work through IEG4's version of Local Government as a Platform (LGaaP).
There were two main drivers in the journey to transform services. Firstly - in common with all councils - BCKLWN needed to meet the challenges of reducing budgets. But no less importantly, it also wanted to improve the citizen’s experience by enabling self-service and minimising all ‘avoidable’ contact. And in doing so, reduce the time spent filling in forms, time spent waiting for verification, time spent queuing and time spent tracking progress on benefits claims and entitlements. It wanted to ensure that citizens doing business with the council found it easy.
Interactive & integrated
The council initially worked with IEG4 to put its benefit claim forms online - interactive and integrated into back end systems. They then became the first local authority to sign up to IEG4’s OneVu – a user and mobile-friendly end-to-end customer engagement platform which enables residents to, amongst other things, apply for housing benefit, council tax discount, track payments and appeal decisions online at a time to suit them.
Leading the project was the council’s assistant director, Honor Howell. “We wanted to improve the way we engaged with our customers and improve the service we gave them. We became a development partner with IEG4 when OneVu was at the point of concept. We liked working with the company and liked what they were doing. OneVu struck us as being fresh, new and agile with a great vision that matched our own.”
The system was designed to make the council’s services more accessible to people 24/7. A sign of its success is that nearly 20,000 residents now have a digital Myaccount powered by OneVu. This has reduced the pressure on the council and has meant that two of its walk-in centres have been closed, said Howell.
“We have seen a significant drop in numbers of calls and visits to the council as more customers take up the online service – we had a 26% fall in benefits calls in the past year alone,” she says.
Success has meant that BCKLWN is now working on a third phase, a project to add licensing to the self service menu. Initially this will allow taxi drivers to use an online service for licensing, vehicle registrations and to make online payments. Myaccount also prompts them to report and update information as well as sending payment reminders. Other licensing applications will follow.
Jo Hillard, assistant council information centre manager, is leading the licensing project. She says: “All our taxi drivers currently do everything by paper. Each taxi driver will now have a personalised area on their Myaccount and will be able to view their taxi driver and vehicle licence online. They will also be able to make driver and vehicle applications and renewals online as well as fill in accident reporting and change of address forms and make multiple payments.”
Self-sufficient & powered by user need
Every online form on Myaccount is created in-house through IEG4’s eDesigner. Initially the council had to ask IEG4 to build forms, but the company was keen on knowledge transfer so that BCKLWN had the skills in-house to build their own digital forms-based services to meet citizens’ needs.
Hillard, who was seconded onto the project three years ago from the customer services team, has been responsible for creating these eforms: “With eDesigner you don’t have to be a technical whizz kid to build a form from scratch. They are easy to create in eDesigner and this has meant we have become self-sufficient and have developed the skills and expertise to produce them in-house.
“Councils’ resources are always stretched and the customer services team deal with enquiries every day. I worked closely with them so that we were able to design forms that met the needs of the customer as well as providing the information the back office needed too.”
She adds: “When we bought Myaccount we had forms in mind that we wanted to build to replace our old system. We used eDesigner at first to do some simple forms and it led from there – the last one we created was a complex house of multiple occupancy (HMO) form.”
IEG4 currently supports the council with integrating the forms into existing back office systems. But in line with its ethos of giving its customers the ability to be self-sufficient, IEG4 is building the capability for the council to do this integration piece themselves. They have recently integrated online payments with eforms so customers can ask and pay for services at the same time - making it more efficient for everyone involved.
“IEG4’s approach has always been to build an intuitive service and then give us the ability to do it ourselves. For example, with multiple payments, they built logic into eDesigner so that I could add the other elements and codes as needed,“ says Hillard.
Mobile & social
The system was specifically designed to be mobile and social media friendly. “This is what people are used to these days and we needed our technology to have the same familiarity with what they are using,” Hillard says. “We don’t like complex forms and we want transactions with us to be as easy for people as they are on Amazon or eBay. Dealing with us needs to be as user friendly as possible and in a language that customers understand. At the same time, we’re also trying to strike a balance so that our back office gets the information they need,” she says.
Whilst the council is working to increase digital services, some residents still prefer to use traditional ways to contact them. In response to this the council provides an assisted self-service function at its headquarters in King's Lynn together with community information points across the borough to ensure the needs of these residents are met.
Sharing with other councils
BCKLWN has recently signed up to IEG4’s form sharing platform (LGaaP) which enables councils to use and borrow existing forms and not ‘reinvent the wheel’ when they look to put services online.
“As pioneers in the field, we have seen other councils lift our forms and just embed their own logo,” says Hillard. “This is always satisfying to see, but IEG4 has plans to add a small charge to councils using the more complex forms so that it can reimburse the originator for its effort. So, our forms could potentially earn us money, which makes it even more satisfying.”
The beauty of the eDesigner forms is that users can share forms they have developed, and those councils who choose to use them can quickly tweak them to meet local requirements and processes.
If you’d like to find out how IEG4 can help to improve and deliver your digital transformation needs, the company is hosting an event on 24 October in London. To book your place click here.
Watch the video below on King's Lynn & West Norfolk's online licensing service: