Building solutions with reusable modules lies at the core of what the Local Government Shared Service (LGSS) does, explains digital technologies manager, Dan Blundell
Created by Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire County Councils in 2010, it has since taken on Milton Keynes Council as a third partner and is providing services for other local authorities, emergency services, arm’s length management companies, schools and academies.
Blundell says that the Local Digital Declaration has added weight to a lot of the work the organisation was already doing in developing services using modular components and open standards that could be easily replicated or adapted between its customers.
He says that instead of trying to provide a whole system for individual services, it looks at the capabilities needed – such as identity management – and either buys or builds that capability, ensuring that it conforms to open standards principles, and integrates into the service. And, perhaps most importantly, is reusable.
It has used AWS technology in a number of its applications, such as Amazon Rekognition for scanning images. This has been applied to number plate recognition by manual operatives, who can take a picture and process a number through a mobile app: the tool can identify specific words or details from a document to provide a level of validation for a process.
The team is now working on extending its use for scanning documents in processes such as housing and checking for student exemption certificates in revenues and benefits.
“There’s not an off-the-shelf service that checks for the certificate, it’s quite a specific use case, but it’s a document recognition capability, where we can train it to recognise a certain type of document,” Blundell says. “There are two levels of checks. One is whether it is a valid exemption certificate, the other to match a specific piece of data.”
It has taken a similar approach with identity management, with a choice of two solutions that can be dropped into different services - both of which have been chosen because they come with good support for ensuring interoperability with other systems. They also facilitate the migration of data simply through using the system rather than having to carry out a time consuming operation to do so.
“As long as it integrates well, and has good import and export functionality so you can move data easily, that reduces the work we have to do,” he says.
LGSS has also used the Amazon Connect cloud based telephony system to build virtual contact centres for its clients. With no set-up fee and the need only to pay for calls received, it offers a fast and low cost way to roll out flexible working – no need to install PBX and rows of desks.
In the first instance Connect was set up in four weeks from project initiation, enabling staff to work from any location through their web browser rather than travelling to be on-site. This provides a significant element of resilience planning for an organisation, helping to keep the contact centre active if the physical office is knocked out of action, and provides the scope for automated transactions.
The service was initially developed for Horsham District Council over a period of four weeks, and has now been replicated for Milton Keynes and within the library service at Cambridgeshire.
Again, it has been a case of using the capabilities of the system as parts of a service, with the potential to use only the elements required by one of the customer organisations.
The original build for Horsham – which is in Surrey rather than the East Midlands region – was all done remotely.
Tweaking and reusing
“It was the whole thing of not having to send a field engineer team, but just taking a technology, tweaking it, using a standard protocol, and reusing it,” Blundell says. “You can effectively copy and paste all you’ve done or build more authorities into the same set-up if you want.”
The organisation has classified a series of digital capabilities that are all reusable, taking in user management, an identity service, location service, notifications, then case, file and business services. These can be built into processes such as managing waste permits, internal expenses and Blue Badge applications.
LGSS has developed its own Blue Badge management solution which the three partners are using. It includes an identity assurance module that has been used across other applications, carrying out a soft credit check to save people who choose to use it from uploading any documentation as proof of identity or address. It runs under a shared contract that uses volume pricing, which saves the authorities from procuring or paying separately, and gives them a significantly reduced cost.
Similarly, it has used the off-the-shelf, plug-in Amazon Simple Notification Service and AWS cloud storage within some of its applications.
Blundell adds that a big advantage of the LGSS approach is that it can fill the gap when the market does not quite meet the customer’s need.
“For places where market does not meet need or there is not enough competition for good products, we are able to build examples of services which we need,” he says.
Blundell adds that a big advantage to this approach is that it helps to reduce the cost of a change in a migration to a new system – a factor that is sometimes underestimated.
“A big part of the Local Digital Declaration is about reducing the cost of change," he says. "One of the big inhibitors for local authorities to enact any kind of change is the cost of migration and interoperability, which can both be mitigated with this approach.”
Main picture credit: iStockphoto/Rick_Jo
Blundell outlines how LGSS improved its ability to make rapid changes across its digital services and increased its operational efficiency by moving from an on-premises infrastructure to the AWS Cloud. He flags the on-demand scalability that enables LGSS to tackle urgent and fluctuating demands of its customers, such as road closures and the school admissions season.
This story is an excerpt from UKAuthority's latest report. With support from AWS, we have been exploring the impact of the Local Digital Declaration on the front line - Download ‘Fixing the Plumbing: Principles of the Local Digital Declaration in action (PDF)