The COVID-19 pandemic has tested local authorities in the UK, who have had to develop and coordinate services to help residents while also adhering to lockdown rules that require most work to be performed from home. It’s required all of us who work for these government organisations to learn new ways of collaborating and communicating, while managing a huge stream of new responsibilities.
The challenge was even more complex in Buckinghamshire, where I’m the service director for ICT at the local authority. The reason: Our council didn’t exist until 1 April. That’s the date when councils from several districts came together to form the new Buckinghamshire Council.
As you can imagine, this was a huge task, involving a redesign of our operational approach and the integration of our IT, HR, and financial systems. In the midst of the pandemic, instead of causing additional complexity and confusion, this technology-driven transformation project has been crucial to optimising our services in response to the crisis.
More ground to cover than ever
When the central government informed 1.5 million vulnerable adults that they should ‘shield’ themselves by staying at home for at least 12 weeks, it had an instant knock-on effect on councils. Since then, much of our work has focused on looking after Buckinghamshire residents on the ‘shielded’ list.
While we had basic information in a spreadsheet, we were dealing with a huge volume of additional data. This included incoming information from the central government about those classed as vulnerable, on top of our own data sets, plus information from hundreds of citizens who were contacting us daily to ask for support.
Not only that, we also had a huge variety of new services to deliver. They included coordinating food parcels, delivering medicines, and lots of additional practical support such as assisting with dog-walking, arranging friendship calls for those in isolation, and much more.
It was a vast and unprecedented logistical challenge.
What became very clear, very quickly, was that we weren’t set up to manage such an ever-changing, stop-start process or the sheer volume of incoming data.
Team members worked tirelessly to update an unwieldy, mammoth spreadsheet—getting up at the crack of dawn just to try to make sense of it before they, and our network of volunteers, could start using it. While it was a testament to the team’s commitment, we had to find a better way of managing the data. In order to help our vulnerable residents effectively, our staff, community hubs, and volunteers needed to have the right information to act on.
People, process, technology
We quickly realised we already had the answer. We had a highly skilled team that understood what we needed to achieve. In ServiceNow, we had a platform to bring everything together in real time and power the workflows we needed to accelerate information sharing.
Success lay in collaboration. Our team at the council defined the requirements for new workflows and designed a new app that could be used by all our support staff and volunteers.
ServiceNow partner Unifii and Buckinghamshire Council’s IT team managed the build on the platform and delivered a full integration of ServiceNow and our online customer service system, Firmstep.
When we started this journey, we had six data fields in a spreadsheet. Now, we have more than 90 fields of essential information that are managed and updated in real time. In addition, this automated workflow platform is powering a streamlined delivery process that benefits everyone involved in managing our response to the crisis.
Success lay in collaboration.
Staff no longer need to get up at the crack of dawn to manually input information into a spreadsheet or cross-check records. Every team, community hub, and volunteer can easily view and download all the information they need for their specific role. How many days’ food does someone have left? When was the last time somebody actually spoke to them? Has the prescription for an immunocompromised patient been collected? We even use the platform for PPE stock control, ordering, and usage monitoring.
We have an accurate, single source of truth for all the data we are collecting, with real-time dashboards that mean no vulnerable person should ever be overlooked.
Putting people first
This isn’t just a technology story. The success of this project is not about the implementation of a new IT system. This journey is about whether Mrs. Smith of Buckinghamshire is getting the support and care she needs during this crisis. It’s about empowering our local heroes (whether they are running a hub, taking calls, or volunteering personal time) to help our most vulnerable residents at this unprecedented time, and making it easier for them to do their job each day.
Working together on this has made a big impact in our local communities. It’s something we can all learn from and share, both now and in the future.