Developing digital services using low code

Adur and Worthing Councils implemented a low code development platform to help them take control of their digital transformation. A small digital team is building end-to-end user-centred digital services that are replacing expensive and inflexible legacy systems. Low cost, fast and flexible, this pioneering digital strategy has delivered multiple customer and efficiency benefits, won national awards and central government recognition.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Every public service organisation faces the same challenge in this digital age. How to design and deliver new digital service models across the business at pace, but with limited resources. Most organisations have a complex legacy estate of different IT systems, which are costly, inflexible and were built for a different age - before the emergence of the internet and digital business models. Tackling the legacy IT problem, and creating new user-centred digital services is out of reach of most public service organisations.

Adur and Worthing were like most other local authorities, struggling to maintain basic IT services on limited budgets with a small team. Keeping existing IT systems patched and running was as much as the team could manage. Council services were running on a large number of traditional software systems which were not keeping up with the times, and were costly and inflexible. With new leadership in place from 2014, the Councils recognised that in order to really drive change in the organisation, and create services that were customer-centred, truly digital and more efficient, they needed to find a way to take control of their digital transformation. As two small district and borough councils, it would be necessary to develop a strategy that was low cost, sustainable, and not rely on external consultants or highly skilled hired-in developers. It would be critical to be able to design and build products in-house, controlling what and when, working with users to understand needs and implementing digital services quickly, using iterative development practices.

A strategic review of options was undertaken with the help of specialist consultants, looking beyond public services for inspiration, into sectors such as financial services. A new class of development platforms was discovered - low code - which allowed applications to be built through visual interfaces, and using common components. The skills required to be a low code developer would be in reach for the councils by converting existing staff such as database administrators and excel power users.

The low code platform approach was the key part of a wider ‘cloud first’ strategy, which also involved a move to Google for Work for all staff, and a plan to close the local data centre and move all applications to the public cloud. Since 2015, the councils have designed and built a range of applications on its low code platform, including waste and recycling services, social housing repairs, asset management, customer complaints, human resource management and freedom of information requests. The applications are truly end-to-end and have saved over £200k per year in software licence costs alone. Significant "back office" efficiencies have been delivered, for example in housing repairs. The administration team can now process 150 contractor invoices in 3 hours, compared to 50 per day previously. Customer satisfaction levels are very high with the new repairs service that is fully self-service, allowing online appointment booking, regular progress updates by email and text, and before and after photos of the repair. Similar benefits have been seen in waste services, where the digital team have also built an automated voice service for clinical waste collection.
Perhaps the most exciting innovation so far using the platform has been a digital service to support social prescribing. Social prescribing helps doctors refer patients with social needs to specialist workers called Community Referrers who help connect people to community resources, such as social activities, health and exercise, debt counselling and mental health support. Adur and Worthing Councils received national funding from the UK Local Government Association to build a digital application to support the service, using its low code platform. The digital service was designed in collaboration with doctors and patients, and received a national award from Computing Magazine, as well as special mention from the UK Local Government Minister. Through this project, Adur and Worthing Councils have demonstrated that it is possible to design and build digital services which are used by multiple agencies in a local public service system and which "join up" the experience for the patient or resident. The Councils are able to offer digital services to any public organisation in the area, including charities, and believes great efficiencies and customer benefits can be delivered through local public service organisations moving to use common platforms. It is early days in this area, but the Councils have the tools and strategic thinking to begin to deliver on this vision. The Councils continue to modernise their operations through this strategy, and to increasingly explore new digital business models that transform their ways of working.

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Year: 2017
Level of government: Local government


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