Industry voice: Shropshire Council is working with Hitachi Solutions to exploit the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform and build internal skills to power an ambitious digital transformation
Two years on from launching its digital transformation programme, Shropshire Council is beginning to share some valuable lessons about its experience, especially around exploiting a commodity platform and working with an implementation partner willing to help build its in-house capability.
One of the major elements of the programme has been implementation of a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to improve the customer experience. This prompted the council to invest in Microsoft’s cloud based Dynamics 365 platform. Having previously used the on-premise version of Dynamics and a range of other products from the company, it was aware that it could get a lot more from Dynamics than the traditional CRM functions.
Shropshire needed external expertise to make this happen, but it also wanted to build its own skills with the platform for the long term. The procurement process led it to Hitachi Solutions, a specialist consultancy in Dynamics 365, and into what its technology and communications service manager Andrew Boxall describes as an interesting and rewarding journey.
“We’re looking at new ways of doing things, overhauling everything we have, reducing the number of applications while improving customer service,” he says. “It will be more efficient going through a single system.”
A major element of Hitachi’s contribution has been the development of a series of templates within Dynamics 365 for different council processes. Boxall highlights case management and reporting, with all the relevant data and workflows contained within the single platform, ensuring the processes run efficiently and enabling managers to digest the information more easily.
It has also provided scope to reduce the number of legacy business applications and provide savings by powering customer experience, customer service and service fulfilment in one platform.
The one platform data benefit
“That has the obvious benefit of lower maintenance and licensing, system admin and so forth,” Boxall says. “And there’s the benefit of the data behind it; if it’s structured properly we can start to do demand management, which is a no brainer, linking up lots of datasets from different applications.”
Shropshire has ambitious plans in this respect. It is now working with Hitachi Solutions on a project to use data from an assistive technology project within Dynamics 365 to explore how it could better support older and vulnerable people in their homes in an unobtrusive manner. This could involve monitoring factors such as the opening of doors and electricity usage to spot any sign of a break in a person’s routine and if necessary send alerts to family or carers.
It has run some initial tests and is now ready to extend these with a group of about 20 service users.
While exploring the potential for the platform, Hitachi Solutions has also been working closely with Shropshire employees to share knowledge strengthen their own skills. Its specialists have spent a lot of time on-site ensuring that internal staff understand each step and develop the skills to take control not just of running the system, but also configuring it to develop new processes as they identify extra service demands.
Boxall says there is long term flexibility in this approach, as the council will take on more of the service redesign in Dynamics 365 itself, but retain the option of turning to Hitachi for support on the more complex challenges.
Knowledge transfer & asset sharing
This affinity for knowledge transfer is now being taken a step further as the company is supporting Shropshire in bringing together other public authorities to learn from its experience and share assets on the Dynamics 365 platform. They staged an event in September involving some detailed descriptions of different processes within Dynamics 365 and lively discussions around its potential and the challenges of sharing business processes and Dynamics assets.
“Local government has strict rules and some of the software we’re implementing is often very similar, and some of the lessons learned and methodologies are the same, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t be working together to deliver this collectively,” Boxall says.
“It’s not our money going into this but the residents’ and being able to do something once and share it is a real bonus.”
Richard Shipton, Hitachi’s head of local government, acknowledges that its support for knowledge transfer and sharing may be surprising to some but says that the approach can create real value for all sides.
“We believe it is important to show up in the right way, and a big part of that is helping public sector organisations to share and collaborate with each other,” he says. “We’re a commercial organisation and want commercial relationships with local government customers, but we have to be realistic in that we can never do everything for everyone ourselves. If we do things in the right way though a lot of organisations will benefit from the collective knowledge, and we can focus on the really complex stuff.”
It amounts to a bold approach that is helping the council to get full value from Dynamics 365 as part of its transformation and laying the ground for widespread sharing of solutions. Boxall sees this as a credible way forward for local government.
“Working with Hitachi has been an interesting journey,” he says. “We’re impressed that they have supported our efforts to work with other authorities. It means we can do more good things for our customers.
“They have also been great in terms of knowledge share; their staff have been really willing to work and share with ours. Sustainability is important as we want to be able to carry on our transformation journey regardless of whether we have external support - we do not have buckets of cash but we do have appetite to improve our customer experience.
“By structuring our digital transformation this way we’ve been able to do that now and look to the future to do it through the template and knowledge transfer model.”
Watch the short interviews with Andrew Boxall and Hitachi Solutions' Richard Shipton below:
Learn more about how Hitachi Solutions can help your council transform services or request a discussion with Richard Shipton, Hitachi Solutions's head of local government here.