Change is good

As 2018 ends, we’re heading into the final quarter of the Digital First programme as it’s currently set up here, and inevitably there have been lots of changes since we started.

The council is working out how it wants this work to be delivered in the future and, while that’s not yet confirmed, what is definite is that there won’t be a Head of Customer and Digital in place as I am moving on to a new challenge leading the digital customer experience at EDF Energy.

Also leaving the team is Annie Heath who has been championing customer (user) needs in the council since time began. Annie is joining London Borough of Croydon as their Digital Design Manager – how lucky are Croydon to be welcoming her into the team?

I’ve been looking back on what we’ve achieved, handily summarised in this deck below.

We’ve really only been motoring for the past year as we had to set the team up from scratch. We’ve made some real changes in services where we have been able to redesign their customer journeys.  Predictably, we started trying to do too much and in the more recent months have become much more focused towards where we can deliver real value.

It’s been fun, it’s been exasperating, it’s been a challenge for everyone; the team will continue until the end of March and then we’ll see. By then we’ll have most of our online content on a new website and expect to have some other key apps working. Watch this space!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Annie and my work next year, you’ll find us at @Annie3H  and @alirigby

So all that remains now, is to thank the Digital First team for their hard work and dedication over the last few years. They have been outstanding and will no doubt continue to be great, right up to the end.

I wish you all Happy Christmas and the very best for the future.

Checking identities, saving time and money

The deadline to apply for a Year 7 place at secondary school passed last week. This year parents applied using a website developed by the Digital First team. This new website included several innovations designed to save time and public money.

One innovation we are particularly proud of is address validation. This is incredibly important. For example, some school places depend on where a child lives, so we needed to be able to confirm their address.

The old system involved an officer looking up the child’s parent in the council tax database. When dealing with thousands of applications, this can take a lot of time and public money.

The new website takes advantage of APIs between different systems to automate this. An API is a way for one computer system to talk to another and exchange data.

Firstly, we talk to the Brighton & Hove Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG) database. This is a list of every address in the area controlled by a local authority. Every address in this database has a Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN). This allows us to confirm an address exists, and it’s exact location.

Secondly, we talk to the council tax database. If you pay council tax for a property in Brighton & Hove, then we know if you are resident there or not.

We know the applicant’s name and the UPRN of their address, so we check if they match our council tax records. Records are manually checked by a council officer if they don’t match.

This ensures the data we have is clean, and that school places are correctly allocated.

We estimate that this one feature alone saves a council officer around three months work.

Staying cool with Agile

Housing Technology presentation DF with hot weather

You may remember an earlier post about the environmental sensors we have installed in one of our sheltered housing developments. We had intended these sensors to measure high humidity and unusually low temperatures, in order to prevent the development of black mould, increased vulnerability to infections and also to detect early signs of fuel poverty.

However, elderly and vulnerable residents are also at risk when it gets really hot – just as it did during the July heatwave, which now seems like an increasingly distant memory! Towards the end of July, the system which captures the sensor data showed that a small number of flats were experiencing temperatures which never dropped below 27°C, even at night – very uncomfortable and potentially hazardous. We were able to alert the scheme manager, who immediately visited the affected residents and was able to offer advice and support for keeping cool.

Of course, the beauty of the Agile Method is that we are able to respond quickly to new requirements. In collaboration with the integration team in IT&D, we re-prioritised our work for the next sprint, creating a new business rule on our integration platform, Dell Boomi. In future, when temperatures exceed a certain threshold over an extended period, this will automatically create a task in our case management system, iCasework, and assign it to the relevant care worker. We have also successfully tested this approach using the API provided by the GOV.UK Notify service, which will generate SMS and emails containing the information needed by the care worker.

It’s early days yet as we understand better what our new technology can do, but it’s looking very promising.