A Grand Scheme in Chelmsford

Chelmsford City Council has pioneered an innovative scheme to enable residents to nominate and vote for local community groups, and help them secure additional funding. The Chelmsford Grand Awards website was launched in January 2012 to allocate £1000 each month to local community groups. The scheme is designed to cut through red tape by making the funding application and allocation process as quick and simple as possible, and to reach new and smaller community groups. 

The site was developed and launched in a matter of days using our AchieveForms and AchieveCMS solutions. All applications are made online via the Grand Awards website using Firmstep’s AchieveForms intelligent online forms solution. Each month, three applicants are shortlisted on the website, with the winner decided by public voting via the site.

Since the January launch, 61 funding applications have been processed with 33 different projects featured on the awards website, attracting over 8,000 votes from Chelmsford residents.

Alison Chessell, Project Manager for Chelmsford City Council said: “We really wanted to involve the public in the decision-making for granting the awards, and using Firmstep’s products to develop the Awards website enabled us to realise this ambition, helping us to move from the initial idea to a live site in a matter of days.  We can also manage the Awards site’s content easily, without needing any coding skills or IT support.”

Chelmsford City Council’s website has also been refreshed and rebuilt using Firmstep’s solutions, with AchieveForms being used to automate and process online services such as applying for residents’ parking permits, applying for planning permission and housing registers, or reporting issues.

Information Governance - Great Practice

This week we are sharing a few forms from Dudley Borough Council that all revolve around Information Governance and would be great practice for the basis of forms for other councils. The forms are fairly simple in design with great use of AF:IF and HTML in the email templates.

In 2011 Dudley Council’s Corporate Board approved a comprehensive Information Governance Strategy and associated action plan that would ensure the Council complied with it’s Information Governance responsibilities.

A Senior Information Risk Owner was identified, Information Governance Board created and Information Asset Owners nominated across the 5 Directorates of the Council. To support these formal Governance management arrangements a suite of self-assessment checklists was produced. With almost 2,000 individual systems (covering paper and electronic) existing across the Council, it was essential to find out their status in terms of, for example; data protection compliance.

The self-assessment arrangement was originally undertaken via paper forms. Take up was poor and the task was seen as a burden that got in the way of the day job. With the use of the Firmstep forms the process is more efficient, less time consuming and because of its ease of accessibility and simplicity, has been completed by far more Asset Owners ensuring an increase in take up of 84%, ultimately assisting in avoiding costly fines and damage to reputation.

You can find out more and try the forms here

If you think you have some Great Practice forms then get in touch! 

Harlow’s Taxi Check Live! Drives Public Safety

Harlow Council’s innovative Taxi Check Live! service is a unique license-checking application that enables members of the public to instantly check whether a taxi or private-hire vehicle is fully licensed, helping to ensure public safety – and it’s powered by AchieveForms. 

Launched in June this year, it’s already been used by nearly 1000 people.  The service is accessible from a smart phone, tablet or PC by browsing to http://www.harlow.gov.uk/tcl, or by scanning the Taxi Check Live! QR code which is displayed at taxi ranks and in licensed premises around Harlow.  This loads an easy-to-use webpage, created in AchieveForms, into which the user types the taxi’s registration number.

Firmstep’s AchieveForms then links directly to the Council’s taxi licensing system and, using live data, shows a user either a green tick, showing that the taxi or private hire vehicle is currently licensed;  or a red cross, meaning the vehicle is not licensed with Harlow Council. 

Following the success of the service, which has been endorsed by Essex Police and local public safety organisations and charities, Firmstep and the Council are working with neighbouring authorities in Essex and the wider Local Government sector to make the service available across the county.  The application is being further developed to expand the information available to include the make, model and colour of licensed vehicles, helping to further reassure users. 

It’s a great example of how a simple solution can unlock the data held in Council systems, to bring real benefits to members of the public.  Contact us if you’d like to find out more!

Harrow Council’s channel shift is just the (parking) ticket

No-one likes receiving a parking ticket, but it’s not often reported that processing appeals against tickets, or handling payments of fines can also be a burden on Council front-line staff and contact centres too, especially in busy metropolitan areas.

This is why Councils are looking to automate their handling of penalty charge notices (PCNs) as much as possible.  Harrow Council is leading the way in this, as it has been able to completely automate its handling of PCN appeals and payments through deployment of AchieveForms, with the channel shift saving it an estimated £90,000 per year in administration and related costs.

Harrow Council introduced the online parking fine appeals and payment service in 2010, to replace a downloadable, static Acrobat PDF form.  In the first year of using the AchieveForms-based solution, the council had 15,000 form submissions, compared with 396 submissions of the static form in the previous year.  Submissions nearly doubled to 29,000 in 2011;  the council now receives over 4,000 submissions per month.  As such it has been able to discontinue face-to-face and telephone enquiries about PCNs from 1st August 2012. 

Read more about the solution here at Local Government News.  

Poole Borough Council’s Channel Shift Success

How do you measure the success of a channel shift programme?  The surest indicator is when the uptake of the online service far exceeds your own projections, enabling you to drive efficiencies and capture savings. 

That’s what has happened at Poole Borough Council, which has automated its online application and payment process for new subscriptions to its Garden Waste Collection Service, using AchieveForms. 

When the service was announced in Autumn 2011, the Council estimated 30% of subscribers would sign up online.  However, over 54% of the 22,000 subscribers registered and paid the annual fee of £31 online – meaning that some 12,000 transactions were handled automatically, relieving pressure on the Council’s frontline service staff and call centre.

The Council reports that more residents now use the council’s website than all other methods of contact combined, and around a third of all requests for services / action are now raised online.  It plans to extend the use of AchieveForms to enable citizens to book beach huts and tennis courts via the council website in 2013 – so if you’re planning a holiday in Poole next year, remember to check the Borough of Poole website!

You can read more about Poole Council’s channel shift success here:  http://www.24dash.com/news/local_government/2012-10-04-Poole-Borough-Council-Boosts-Garden-Waste-Collection-Service-Sign-Ups-with-Firmstep-s-AchieveForms

The Forms Catalogue Revamped

Once upon a time, we had a Forms Catalogue where customers could connect with each other online and share some of their work. This easy-to-use system allowed customers to upload and download form XML files that they could take to and from their own sites, as well as giving the ability to leave comments to help other site users.

However, form technology and customer expectations moved on and the forms in the catalogue got outdated, so the catalogue was temporarily removed. Since its disappearance, a lot of the suggestions we receive at the company are along the lines of “BRING BACK THE FORMS CATALOGUE!” And that’s exactly what we’ve done – we have a new and improved Forms Catalogue up on our Extranet.

The Forms Catalogue: providing links to test and download the form, as well as giving the ability to give ratings and comments.

The benefits of this system are massive and obvious: with so many of our customers using our products to solve similar problems, it makes sense to share information with one another to avoid duplicating efforts, thus saving time that could be better spent elsewhere. It’s also a great place to network with people working on similar projects, or who may wish to collaborate in the future.

At this stage, we’re asking customers to step forward with any forms that they’ve built, that they think would be particularly useful for other customers. You can simply grant us permission to extract the forms from your site, email us the XMLs, or upload them yourself! We want an expanding library that allows you to showcase your work and brings our customers together in an online space.

If you have a form you’d like to share, send an email to enquiries@firmstep.com

Examples from East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Moira Bielby, Senior IT Liaison Officer, shares a little of what the East Riding of Yorkshire Council have implemented using AchieveForms.

The East Riding of Yorkshire Council migrated to the Firmstep Platform in September 2010 and use both AchieveForms and the Process Module. We have a mature portfolio of forms that are used extensively across our service areas for both internal and external use.

Integration of forms and processes with back-office systems and our payment portal has allowed us to encourage customers to self-serve.  This has helped us realise both efficiency and activity cost savings, as well as improved compliance with policies and procedures. Some examples of forms with payment integration are:

  • Payment for a locally hosted European fishing competition
  • School bus season ticket application
  • Local land charge search
  • Applications for licences
  • Copy certificates for registration services

Examples of internal processes are:

  • Application for an identity badge
  • Rail and travel booking
  • Reporting of property repairs
  • E-annual leave booking

The E-annual leave booking process is an excellent example of integration using Active Directory, a web service and an API to our personnel system. The process allows staff to self-serve leave entitlement, and allows us to automatically processes 4000 transactions per month. 

Integrating to save

Many councils I have spoken to recently have told of the efficiency gains they are experiencing by integrating AchieveForms with back-office systems. Being able to push submitted data directly into a back-office system is giving a better audit trail and saving the time otherwise wasted having to re-keyinformation.

One council has estimated that integrating an internal process with their HR system has saved around a minute of re-keying per submission. When we put this value into the context of 200-300 submissions per day, we can say that this integration is saving half a day’s work for an employee, who can thus focus on more pressing tasks.

Councils are not only pushing information into back-office systems but also using the data lookup for checking and validation. This ensures that accurate and consistent data is submitted by citizens, and removes the need to chase missing information, again saving councils precious time.

With the current pressures councils are facing to minimise costs, such integrations can play a key role in making such savings achievable.