As we have all been coming to grips with the ‘new normal’ that is beginning to emerge from the ongoing CV19 public health emergency our company continues to support our local authority customers. UK local authorities form one of the critical frontlines during this crisis. It is primarily they that are supporting vulnerable members of their communities and continuing to provide essential services to all households.
As the crisis continues to evolve we have had to make some changes to our own business operations that will help us remain resilient throughout what will undoubtedly be an extended period of severe disruption.
More importantly, and for the purposes of this blog, I would like to focus on how we have witnessed the innovation that has been evident amongst local authority customers as they have worked hard to sweat their digital assets, ensuring that they can continue to support residents and business.
Here are 5 things that we have seen from our customers and that we have occasion to assist them with over the last 2 months as the health emergency unfolded.
- Respond quickly through digital channels – Almost from day one of the Covid 19 outbreak, and certainly from the announcement of the national lock down, councils were quick to want to produce digital service points and electronic forms to help their residents and business customer access the assistance and support they needed. Digital platforms such as My Council Services are ideal for this type of quick turnaround project. To be able to design, produce, test and deploy eforms quickly and without undue fuss has been crucial
- Turn central government policy into local digital assets – As the Treasury announced a comprehensive fiscal stimulus package to try and limit the economic damage of the lock down, we were witnessing almost in real time, some of our customers quickly producing an array of related forms. Some examples include:
- Business Fiscal Stimulus Grant – COVID19
- COVID-19 Enquiries
- Benefits COVID-19 General Enquiry Form
- COVID-19 Individuals Requesting Support
- COVID-19 Volunteers
- COVID-19 Business Rates Grant
- COVID-19 – Key Worker Childcare Request
- Free School Meals – COVID-19 – Voucher
- Share what you have created – Another feature of our local authority customers’ behaviour during the early stages of the crisis was a desire to share what they had been doing with their colleagues from other councils and to reduce duplication of effort. Based on customer feedback, and long before Covid19 had entered our vocabulary, we had enabled a form store on the My Council Services platform. As the Covid19 crisis took hold our clients were using this facility to share their newly developed forms. Our role in this was marginal – we promoted and shared the availability of these new assets proactively and made our support team available to help as required. The rest was done by the user community itself.
- Make sure you are investing in easy to use and accessible software – With the accelerating spread of Covid-19 and the announcement of strict social and physical distancing measures, the world changed overnight for our local authority clients. Their priorities shifted. Many projects were paused and our primary contact people at our customer sites were redeployed onto COVID-19 duties. This meant that, for a good number of local government clients, we were being introduced to new contact people who had been asked to assume responsibility (even if temporarily) for the daily update and management of their digital platforms. These recently acquainted colleagues, newly assigned to My Council Services platform duties, had to get up to speed quickly. We have been impressed how quickly folks were able to learn the ropes and begin to produce new eforms and make changes to existing forms and processes where required, and with only a little help and guidance from our support desk. The key here really is that when the unexpected happens and your organisation finds itself in crisis mode, it is important that your digital assets are highly configurable and that use of them can be taught to another Council team member, without the need for extended training or specialist technical skills.
- Reporting, reporting, reporting – As the public health emergency developed into a procedural response from our local authority clients, things had to be done on the ground. Requests from vulnerable people and households needed to be responded to, food aid distributed, prescriptions collected etc. Our clients quickly used the back office reporting tools available in My Council Services to create digital lists of addresses and associated requirements that became task sheets that allowed things to get done and get done quickly. As the weeks rolled on and lockdown continued, the reporting also become valuable in its more usual sense i.e. being able to look back and accurately summarise what has been done, when it had been complete and to use that information for forward planning and refinement of operations
Each of these five examples has been driven by the councils concerned themselves. The role of Abavus in all of this has been to make sure that we had our own house in order, to ensure that we were resilient, and to make our resources available to offer help and support where needed. As with so many aspects of our lives during this very difficult time, technology and digitisation have come to prove themselves a very useful asset in a crisis.