How can local government deliver Digital Automation that really works?

One of the approaches that Harrow Council took to deal with the crisis facing local government was to create a digital services team to deliver innovative transformation and channel shift solutions. Three years on, and this London borough now stands as a maturing digital council with a significant self-serve capability.


The successful approach employed by Harrow’s digital team is based upon working with council departments and focusing on their customers’ experience, and then translating this into a digital solution. The team will spend time researching the customer profile and journey and, where possible, make the digital experience as close to how customers would interact with the council through more traditional channels such as telephone or face to face.

“Our web forms are based upon how we believe customers interact with us through other channels” explains Leroy Bellingy, Senior Project Manager, “so to help customers channel shift we need to give them the same experience they would have had traditionally”.

The business unit is constantly engaging with other service areas in the council to process map and provide further opportunities for digital change. Whilst significant progress has been made, Leroy states that there are still hurdles to overcome. “We still have challenges with the way that people work”, he says, “so we have tried hard to become storytellers and get people to come on the journey with us, not kicking and screaming and digging their heels in”.

High Volume, High Impact
In the Revenues and Benefits department paper-based forms were being scanned but to reduce the volume of paper the process was reviewed. The team initially identified the high volume areas such as Direct Debit, Single Person Discount and Change of Address. They used Govtech’s webCAPTURE solution to provide the integration and automation between a third party front-end form and the Revs & Bens back-end system.

Efficiency greater than a human
Harrow have over 100,000 users on the My Harrow platform, from a population of 240,000. Online contact now outnumbers traditional methods by 5 to 1, and alongside that over 30,000 webforms are completed. “Govtech meets our needs, eliminates our work, and we have saved a huge amount of time and money”, says Leroy “The efficiency is greater than a human; a human will make mistakes and suffer from fatigue, but this product works 100% in the way we want it to. We are really impressed with Govtech”.

A best of breed approach
Harrow also has a strong in-house team but recognise that they are not expert at everything, so adopt a ‘best of breed approach’. “We are not going to be asking for one company to do it all” says Ben Jones, Head of Digital, “Govtech have an expertise in revenues & benefits and the service that they offer is unique. They offer not only the technical expertise, but also the business knowledge. We know that we couldn’t do what they do in-house”

“You can’t argue with the savings, and we get high levels of automation for revenues, because we’ve tried to make it as simple as possible for the customer”, Ben continues. “Customers can go online, fill in and submit a form, and that’s often as much as they need to do. For our teams, there’s little to no manual intervention and 24 hours later a bill appears. We don’t want to put barriers in the way, and Govtech make it all happen in our Revenues & Benefits system”.

“We want to focus on doing what councils should be doing: telling you about bin collections and local services. We are good at the customer stuff in-house, so Govtech takes away much of the repetitive work and lets us focus on the things that really matter. Govtech helps us create savings whilst improving customer service.”

Key Learning Points

  • Online is now the channel of choice: moving from 28% to 73% self-service transactions
  • Key principles driving transformation: building services around the customer and joining-up the Council
  • A blended approach: building strong in-house capacity, with specialist providers to create flexible solutions
  • Make the processes behind the online transactions work
  • Digitalisation has led to over £6 million in both front and back office savings

Making customer experiences simple
The transformation programme at Harrow has also seen the contact centre reduce in size from 150 seats to 70. They’ve been able to do this, in part, by moving the simple things that people want to do online. The impact of this is that by digitising the simple things, the council can concentrate on the harder things for which citizens need to speak to a member of staff.

The approach at Harrow has been to build things around the customer. Ben’s team have been highly focused on making the customer experience and the internal department experience as simple as possible. “If the middle bit is difficult, so be it, but it has to be easy for the customer and member of staff. That’s why we couldn’t do without Govtech”, concludes Ben.