Hi, my name’s Jim and I am the Delivery Manager at Digital First. It’s my job to ensure that the Digital First ship sails smoothly so we can deliver a wide-reaching, diverse range of digital services to Brighton and Hove residents.
When I joined the Digital First team in December 2017 I was surprised to find the team had grown from 4 members in January to 27 members at the end of the same year. That’s a whopping 575% increase. The ship that I was hired to help sail had grown from a dinghy to an ocean liner.
Increased size means increased complexity in our processes, interactions and tools, all of which throw up their own interesting challenges. What struck me most about the rapid team growth though was that it shows a commitment by the council to transform the Brighton & Hove digital services landscape. It shows a commitment to offer residents responsive new digital channels into council services so they don’t have to spend time on the phone or queueing at council offices.
The strategic decision to build these new digital services on a ‘low-code’ platform means that we can develop new applications rapidly without the overheads associated with more traditional programming environments. Developing rapidly means we can prototype, test and deliver ideas in shorter cycles, and ultimately deliver more.
Already we have delivered online services for rubbish collection and schools admissions this year. There is much more in the pipeline, not least a revamp of the entire council website which you’ll see across lots of different services this coming year. We are constantly looking to deliver the greatest value in what we build. That value could be in terms of efficiency, or cost savings, or developing applications for wide-reaching, high-transaction services that add value to as many residents as possible.
We also have a keen eye on how we can innovate for the benefit of our residents, an example being our Internet of Things (IoT) project: placing bespoke digital devices into sheltered housing that can detect changes in the environment. We plan to use these devices to check for signs of residents struggling to heat their home, and to automatically alert someone to check in with them.
The digital world doesn’t stand still. We are excited to be moving with it, all the time looking for opportunities to deliver great digital services across Brighton and Hove.
Last Tuesday, Khalid, our Mendix lead, and I stepped out of our comfort zone and on to the stage for a question and answer session at a Mendix event in London.
Mendix is the low code platform that we are using to develop our digital services. We have been building up our in-house skills gradually under Khalid’s watchful eye. Khalid has previously worked with Mendix in the financial services sector.
The team at Mendix invited us to the event to talk about our experience at Brighton & Hove City Council – warts and all. We were on stage with John from Knowsley Council who also use the same platform.
John, Khalid nor I, would normally seek out the limelight, so this was very much a case of doing something that makes us uncomfortable, to challenge ourselves.
Before we went up, and in typical tech style, we both looked at the heart rate monitors on our watches. Interestingly, my heart rate was 64 and Khalid’s was 113, perhaps I was born for the big stage after all!
We answered questions about Digital First’s successes so far, like Report a Problem, and how we user test in the library. We also talked about building an academy to train staff and increase the number of Mendix developers in the UK.
All in all, we coped well with the questions and audience feedback was good.
The day ended with a dinner discussion around digital transformation, where there were guests from many public and not for profit organisations. There was also a lively discussion about the way forward, which has been covered in the Nimbus Ninety blog.
Without the spotlight on us, we were most definitely back in our comfort zone.
I wrote a few months ago about the new data protection laws coming in. We have been working with our Data Protection team to design these changes to the applications and forms on our website.
Interpreting new laws is difficult. No-one has been assessed yet by the governing body; the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Our Data Protection team are understandably cautious, as although the ICO is keen to stress that this is not all about fining companies for breaches, we need to be careful so that we don’t risk public money. They felt that we had to make all of the information visible to the customer on the page before they agree to continue rather than use a button where you “click here to learn more” if you choose.
Our first designs were simple but long. They met the requirements but did not improve customer experience. For example, if you report fly tipping in your street and provide contact details to know when it is cleared, do you really want loads of writing to appear before you can hit “submit”? Would you even read it?
Luckily, while we were talking about this with the Data Protection team, Google started to roll out their own designs. They did use “learn more” buttons so we all felt reassured and have adapted our designs to suit. Here is an example of the new design in progress:
This is a big step forward achieved by good co-working across the organisation.
Once we have a couple of versions better designed by our UX and Digital Content team and agreed by our Data Protection team, we’ll be testing them with residents.