South Hams and West Devon councils are using intelligent forms and process automation to drive efficiency and channel shift in revenues and benefits.
South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council operate as two unique councils with one underpinning service organisation. Steve Mullineaux, group manager for that service, is responsible for driving their transformation programme, which aims to meet the challenge of reducing costs whilst maintaining services in difficult times.
By focusing on the admin work that is common to all services, the programme aims to strip out costs from delivery. Mullineaux explains: “By moving to a generic case management model this admin burden can be automated, costs can be reduced and specialists freed up to work with complex cases - where their skills and expertise are most needed.”
Part of this move to automation has included the use of intelligent forms from IEG4 in revenues and benefits – immediately removing the need to rekey data and automating the underlying processing.
Driving channel shift
According to Mullineaux: “IEG4’s housing benefit eforms are the best on the market, so in order to drive channel shift quickly we asked them to implement their forms and integrate them with our back office systems.
“They are experts in that housing benefit and council tax digital customer interface. The forms are deliberately very simple and very customer friendly. They had already integrated with Northgate systems like the one we use so we had the opportunity to talk to existing users, like Birmingham, before making any decisions.
“Integration is usually one of the hardest parts of this type of project, but it really was extremely easy working with IEG4.”
The two councils now have new housing benefit claims, change in circumstances and direct debit forms live and integrated with their back office systems.
Mullineaux says: “The most impressive thing about this project was the time it took from order signature to having the system in a position to start testing – just two weeks. It meant that we went live with the forms within eight weeks, covering configuration, testing and integration.
“The support they gave us to enable that was outstanding really. They were always available at the end of the phone and always responded within 24 hours with a solution to any problems we were facing.”
Customers have responded very positively to the change. During user testing new claimants praised the forms’ simplicity and how easy they found it to use. And two months following 'go live' half of all claims are now submitted using the form.
Mullineaux is also delighted with the knock-on impact on claim processing speeds: “Processing has reduced by 10 days in some cases and 40% of all claim forms are now completed within 10 days. It has basically halved our processing time for 40% of our work.”
He explains that the two councils had already cut staffing levels by 30% due to the current austerity budgetary constraints. “We have had to drive service improvement whilst responding to severe budget reductions: this technology enables us to cope.
“IEG4 have delivered for us on every front: speed, usability, efficiencies and channel shift. And we are now exploring use of their robotics technology to automate processing and council tax forms – this will enable us to free up resource further to cover other areas where there have also been cuts.”
The team is focusing particularly on the mobile user experience. “Demographics and our research show that benefits customers are more likely to be accessing the service through their mobile than from a laptop or desktop computer, so getting the mobile experience right is crucial,” explains Mullineaux.
He is clear that perfecting the forms in response to user feedback is an ongoing process.
“The forms have tools enabling us to analyse what is happening in the form as users move through a claim. This lets our benefits specialists pinpoint any stumbling blocks, identify potential problems and make tweaks to the form content in real time.”
“Getting the customer language right is key to driving adoption and we now have the tools to rapidly react and respond to improve the customer journey. There is no need to put in a change request with a supplier; we are in control of our own service.”
In 2017 the joint service is also implementing IEG4's citizen self-service solution, OneVu. Mullineaux says: "We chose OneVu to really accelerate our channel shift, it’s easy to configure and will enable our customers to get real time information relating to their council tax and housing benefit accounts, offering our customers a really positive digital experience."
To understand more about revenue and benefit solutions, IEG4 are hosting events on Wednesday 8th March in Alderley Edge and Thursday 16th March at techUK, London. Click on the relevant link to register your place.