Bristol City Council Digital Platform
The Bristol City Council (BCC) Digital Platform project was conceived as part of a wider change program within the council to address the way services can be delivered within a landscape of budget cuts and increasing demand for services which is changing in nature and predictability. From 2011 BCC has rationalised their ICT estate, simplifying it, reducing siloes and making it more agile and flexible in support of future “common services” for the benefit of “one council” sharing information seamlessly and reducing cost.
Key principles were open data, open standards and where feasible open source software to give the flexibility to redesign and respond to change without the constraints of proprietary systems that are designed for the old structures of local government.
A core deliverable of the change program is the Digital Platform which is an integrated set of technologies that provides the structure to deliver joined-up digital services that its customers need and want. By providing a coherent user and customer experience through a customer account and portal that connect services, channels and systems all Council service areas are given a foundation for exploiting digital channels to provide “Digital services so good that people prefer to use them”. It was important that the platform had solid foundations, integrated components and provided a multipurpose toolkit flexible enough to provide any type of service.
The project approach was strongly influenced by the Government Digital Services (GDS) Service Manual which fuses Agile and Lean approaches and adapts them to delivering government digital services. Services were tackled incrementally with an initial Residents Parking Permits service being the first to be launched to live. Other early services include Waste (e.g. order a new bin) and Complaints.
The GDS approach had to be revised in a number of ways because the needs of local government are slightly different, timeframes / budget were tight and also we were delivering a fully transactional self-service platform, whereas up to this point GDS had only been delivering Information sites which involve far less complexity and dependencies. For these reasons a more structured plan was needed from the beginning and we effectively bypassed an Alpha phase focussing on a releasable fully integrated Beta.
Each service was delivered by a full multi-disciplinary delivery team from User Experience (UX) and Design to Development and Testing. Digirati was a “semiembedded” team within BCC in that we were on site for the main Agile ceremonies in each Sprint and relied on unified comms the rest of the time.
This multidisciplinary approach, which is recommended by GDS, can be much more challenging than using Agile solely for development, which is more common. But the results are significantly superior when you get it right because it facilitates a far more user-centric approach and opens up the potential benefits from ongoing collective learning and knowledge sharing. Higher quality digital services are delivered and waste is reduced by trimming unnecessary or suboptimal deliverables.
One of the main challenges was the cultural change and new skills involved as customer and supplier adapt to collaborative Agile practices and so, working with the council, we identified an Agile Coach to assist with this, then worked together to incrementally improve the team approach throughout the course of the project.
The project was driven by a relentless focus on user needs with user testing embedded into each and every sprint to validate the design thinking. This would range from early “guerrilla” user tests to broader and more formal lab tests later on.
Key design principles included:
- look for ways to delight users
- use familiar patterns
- create accessible services
- free data from its silos
- measure and improve
- look for relationships
- drive for consistency and efficiency
- create simple clear experiences
All designs were delivered in a componentised pattern/code library so that common patterns can easily be reused for future services.
During the Discovery Stage of the project we created an initial design for the core architecture which involved building a proof of concept to prove key integration points and platform capabilities. A service based architecture was devised using open source and open standards whenever practical: some legacy elements of the architecture were left in place due to time constraints and the belief in the benefits of increment architectural approaches.
It became clear that due to the need to deliver portal functionality and complex integrations in a short timeframe that standards based portal software would be necessary. With an onus on open source and open standards Liferay became a prime candidate which was further reinforced with pre-existing integration modules available for other key components in the architecture such as Identity Management and Content Management Systems (CMS).
The council were already using Drupal CMS and a migration to a new CMS was adding too many further complexities and dependencies to the project. It was a natural fit to retain Drupal as a pure content repository which provides Liferay content for delivery alongside other portal functionality.
With over 25 existing account types for different online services, a key objective at the core of the Digital Platform project is to consolidate and eventually rationalise to a single “Citizen Account”. Single sign-on was therefore a key consideration and the need for a technology scalable enough to provide identity management for Bristols’ 450k residents. The Forgerock technology stack (Open AM, OpenIDM, OpenDJ) met this criteria.
% of customers self-serving transactions and Information Advice & Guidance (IAG)
Completion rates for self-serve transactions on digital platform
Users reporting they “found what they were looking for” during their visit to the digital platform
User-reported satisfaction levels with the digital platform
Number of completely automated self-serve processes
Number of transactions using automated business rules
Number of backend systems using end-to-end integration
Average completion time for self-serve transactions
Average time-spent-on-page for self-serve IAG
Calls to Call Centre relating to transactions and information available on self-serve platform
Visits to Service Points relating to transactions and information available on self-serve platform
Transactions generated by digital platform requiring manual intervention for completion
Transactions generated by digital platform requiring manual re-keying
Applications generated by digital platform manually assessed as “not for action”
The project combined technical challenges and adoption of a new agile delivery method. Working together, Digirati and the council put collaborative agile working practices into place, and iteratively improved them through the life of the project. Bristol City Council has since used the learning from this project to evolve its approach to service design and agile delivery even further.*
We have delivered fully integrated end-to-end digital services and put a platform in place to gradually roll out future services. As more services come on board the aim is to continue extending the platforms’ reusable patterns and components and so deliver new services faster and in line with the agreed design principles.
The impact of the digital services will be measured and analysed to assess how the platform delivers against the success criteria. Once more data becomes available we will release a revised version of this case study, please contact us if you would like more information and receive further updates.