UK Councils use SilverStripe to help boost ROI
In our increasingly connected world, local councils in the UK and the world are facing pressure to keep pace with technology and connect with citizens in ways convenient to them.
Local councils in the UK offer a range of services to citizens from booking leisure centres and holiday camps to arranging access to public buildings. In a bid to increase efficiency and better serve their citizens, 9 local councils began searching for a way to use technology to connect citizens to these services, all whilst reducing time spent by staff handling admin and updating availability.
The entire UK public sector is still facing a common core challenge: target expensive, inefficient processes to save taxpayers’ money. This much any reader already knows. But on top of that broad goal, it makes sense to pay particular attention to the services that are heavily customer-facing and, therefore, may lead to common frustration.
Bookings have come to represent a clear opportunity to improve not just efficiency but the customer experience. With no online option, appointments were scheduled by phone and manually input into a basic spreadsheet. Many staff lacked the technical expertise to handle payments or integrate bookings with the calendar. Time and money was inevitably going to waste.
The second challenge involved the technical nature of the booking process. Due to lack of a single platform to bring the elements together, the scheduling, payments and reminders suffered from gaps in the process between them.
Further more, certain technical elements of security and compliance were prescribed even before the search began. For example, all systems must conform to a tender threshold that includes the ability to upload documents (such as proof of ID) while meeting strict data protection requirements. And local councils also needed dedicated technical support.
Perhaps most disconcerting was the sense that valuable public services were going underused by local citizens due to the obtuse systems around their availability. Residents in many of the boroughs simply were not aware of the plethora of events being put on by councils which in turn meant the council’s return on investment for these services was hugely under fulfilled.
Quite often the only way people became aware of the events was to call up local council staff, perpetuating the frustrating cycle of admin teams being stretched ever more thinly.
The search began for a solution to these challenges that would not only get citizens more bang from their buck but provide a customer experience for public services to the standard they would expect from any private enterprise.
The search led 9 local councils including East Lothian Council, Hertfordshire County Council and Hampshire County Council to BookingLive, a system built on SilverStripe’s open source framework. This led the way to a customer experience beyond what was previously possible, BookingLive allowed councils to generate pages where citizens could book their own appointments.
At the same time, council staff could set up phone bookings with the same interface, giving them confidence in the accuracy and allowing them to service customers faster.
SilverStripe’s open source nature and a wide range of existing integrations and plugins made it easy to bring together the various systems that had previously led to frustration. The flexible framework made it easy for BookingLive’s developers to integrate appointment scheduling with Google Calendar, iCal and Outlook. It also allowed for connectivity with essential payment gateways like PayPal, Sagepay and Civica.
Having multiple options for payment addresses council compliance requirements and the best gateway to match the council’s requirements in terms of security. Councils also increasingly require complete EPOS support - especially when taking bookings for leisure centres where membership cards need to be processed. The BookingLive system also boasts watertight security with full permissions capabilities.
In terms of helping customers discover public services they might have previously missed, SilverStripe’s strength as a fully featured CMS complimented made marketing much easier. From easily creating web pages to explain the benefits of the services to extensive plugins to promote them, the councils now have a platform to make sure services are used as much as possible, and accessible from any device.
Barry Swaisland, Director at BookingLive said: “SilverStripe is a fantastic framework and community, committed to making development much easier and practical for our customers. There is a distinct level of confidence in the security offered by SilverStripe as it is used for government websites, is Microsoft certified and, because it is slightly less well known, presents less of a security risk from random unskilled hacks. When I first joined BookingLive, there were several projects that really showed potential in terms of ORM, ModelAdmin and controller / templates. Likewise, SilverStripe’s PHP and BSD license were also strong factors. On first arriving in the job, I was tasked with combining three systems and as Silverstripe was the commonality between them and it met all of our needs, it was a no-brainer that I carried on using it.”
Since implementing the new system, an average of 75% less time is now spent on related admin. SilverStripe’s user-friendly CMS makes updating pages quick and easy. Staff can also pre-populate the address fields using a postcode lookup. By reducing time spent on admin and organisation, council staff are able to turn their attention to providing personalised customer service at the times that matter. In many cases, BookingLive has completely replaced old-fashioned IT and paper-based systems.
Owing to the sheer convenience offered by the new BookingLive system, councils are experiencing up to 70% increase in online revenue for their paid services. This is due to the fact that bookings can now be made by citizens whenever and wherever they want instead of only when offices and phone lines are open for business. The responsive nature of SilverStripe’s framework means BookingLive’s appointment scheduling tools can be accessed anywhere on any device.
At the same time, by bringing these services online councils have tapped into a whole new online audience who may not have known what was available. This has led to councils seeing the average number of bookings doubling since implementing BookingLive. Council’s have also reported that since implementing online bookings, the number of telephone bookings has dropped to an average of 10%, reducing the need for as many contact centre staff.
The flexibility of SilverStripe’s framework also allows for additional future proofing as, once councils have the BookingLive system in place, it is essentially self-serve. Councils can create new pages that allow for bookings for other activities. The framework is also updated by an open source community so is always at the forefront of trends in web development.
Barry summed up the SilverStripe offering as follows: “The benefits SilverStripe brings over other frameworks is the developer friendliness of the solution and its ability to deliver quickly and comprehensively. Open source also brings us as an agency distinct benefits – there are no development worries to consider on top of selling our solution and we have absolute confidence in the SilverStripe product. Furthermore, the open source nature of the system allows our clients, contractors and consultants to examine our platform and understand exactly how it works.”
- 30 June 2015