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Westminster’s approach to digital rationalisation


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Industry voice: The city council is among the pioneers in harnessing Dynamics 365 with the Evolve LRG solution to give itself more control over its IT systems and service processes

Westminster City Council has had some mixed experiences in previous attempts to rationalise its digital systems according to chief information officer Ben Goward.

Back in 2001 it invested in an e-business platform with the idea of replacing a raft of line of business IT systems with a single enterprise platform. But it underestimated the complexity of bespoking the platform to meet the complex needs of local government, and the money and effort invested outweighed the value from the change. Ultimately it failed to complete the programme.

In 2014 the council built a new website with an enterprise platform it intended to use for transforming back end services. The website was successfully redesigned, but it never established the business case  for the second part of the programme.

These experiences taught the council some painful lessons about how it should approach digital transformation; but it is now taking a confident approach with a new solution.

“The journey from core line of business system into agile digital platforms is very difficult,” says Goward. “I’ve definitely learned that the scale and complexity of this means you don’t want to approach it as a single local authority.

“It’s why we moved very cautiously from mode one to mode two in terms of business process. We wanted to do it with a partner so we didn't have to take on all the maintenance, upgrades and responses to statutory changes; and we hope to do it with a wider group of councils.”

Local government design

Such thinking has underpinned its programme to migrate processes to the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform, supported by its recent deployment of the Evolve LRG portal and CRM solution from Pythagoras. This has been designed specifically for local government and sits on Dynamics 365 and the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to pull together a wide range of data, simplify processes and reduce system costs.

The decision was initially based on Westminster already using Microsoft 365 software, but it became aware of what Pythagoras was doing with Enfield Council in the first implementation of Evolve. Its big advantage is in being a configurable solution, through within which it is possible to design digital services through a drag and drop approach rather than complex coding.

Westminster could see this removed the need for it to build its own code into Dynamics 365, which would save it from having to deal with all the upgrades and enable it to develop a more collaborative approach with other councils.

“It was a difficult decision as the product was not in its final mature stage, but I believe it was the right decision to take,” says Goward.

It worked with Pythagoras on the original deployment over nine months up to January of this year, using some developers from Kensington & Chelsea – with which Westminster has a shared IT service – who came with no specific skills in Dynamics, along with business analysts, a test manager and the wider IT team. Goward says there were some big challenges around the integration of systems and data, and in building the understanding between teams, but that Pythagoras’s experience helped the council to deal with these.

Application integration

It was able to integrate Evolve LRG into various applications including Westminster’s Local Land and Property Gazetteer and payments and mapping systems, and with three core line of business systems: city management (with the Idox Uniform system), waste management (Veolia Echo) and highways (PBMS Confirm). It also created the links to the MyAccount website sign-in and Report-It online forms.

This enabled the council to go live with seven ‘customer journeys’ in late January and another three in early February, following which its in-house team has been working on others.

A number of lessons were learned and pain points identified in the process. These included the need to persuade various stakeholders within the council to be ready to work with a ‘minimum viable product’ when they had an instinctive desire for perfection – an important factor given that Evolve LRG was still maturing as a platform.

There were issues around a lack of experience in agile working, such as the need to properly engage with the relevant service teams and find the right procedure in the design and build method.

It also tested the council’s IT capability, largely through the complexity of the various integrations, and the need to develop new skills in areas such Dynamics 365, Azure, and the enterprise architecture. Developing these capabilities as the platforms replace existing systems has become one of Westminster’s IT priorities.

Next steps

Goward says the early results have been positive and the council now has a plan for the next steps. These include adopting the Evolve LRG roadmap to take account of an upgrade in Dynamics 365 from version 8.2 to 9, with new features and a portal, and continuing to exploit the possibilities.

Westminster is confident about what it can do with the platform and ready to share its experiences with other local authorities.

“We have a business change team that can do a lot of future transformations for the council and save a lot of money,” Goward says. “It’s about our entire enterprise architecture.

“This will be much better if it’s more than just Westminster, Enfield and Bedford (the first three adopters of Evolve LRG). The stronger the user group, the more we can share, and we can talk to you if you’re interested in learning the lessons.”

You can join a local government discovery webinar on getting the most from Microsoft Dynamics 365 by clicking on the link below:

Image by © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC SA 4.0

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