Livingstone Shire Council takes a 5 step approach to digital change
A de-amalgamation and a strong desire to deliver the best possible customer experience were the primary driving forces behind the digital transformation of the Livingstone Shire Council Planning and Building approvals process.
Post-de-amalgamation in January 2014, key personnel at Livingstone Shire Council began exploring options to deliver services across Council more efficiently. Successive customer surveys indicated a clear expectation and need for Council to present and operate within a digital platform.
Feedback from the community also supported Council becoming more environmentally conscientious and focusing on reducing its carbon footprint and reliance on paper. Existing internal processes were paper-based, highly manual, and included many steps.
It was clear to the team that they had a responsibility to fix this while making it easy for the community to conduct business with Council online.
With Council’s Executive Leadership support, the Project Team embarked on a council-wide digital transformation journey to elevate Council’s service delivery options into the twenty-first century as quickly as possible.
By the end of 2016, the team had successfully implemented a new electronic document and property management system. By January 2017, the team focused on designing Council’s online Land Use applications suite.
Engaging people first to design the solution.
Council knew what they wanted to achieve. They knew that they needed technology to help them achieve it, and they knew they were missing a few pieces of the puzzle to complete their desired solution. That’s when Council engaged Redman Solutions to help.
With their extensive experience working with hundreds of other councils to digitise planning approvals, Council knew Redman Solutions had specific expertise to help them bring this project to fruition.
Looking back now, it’s evident that the success of this project was contingent on one key factor – people. The team at Livingstone Shire Council took a people-first approach, and Redman Solutions wholeheartedly supported this approach.
From the outset, the Project Team made sure they had the right mix of people involved. They wanted to ensure adequate representation from all four key stakeholders in the planning process - council, industry, applicants, and the community.
Step One: Garner internal buy-in and support for change
Undoubtedly, one of this implementation's most significant challenges and successes was engaging team members within Council in a way that helped them embrace change and transition to a new way of working. Livingstone Shire Council has a high percentage of older people working at Council, some of whom have used paper-based systems for decades.
The implementation process was initially undertaken with key staff in the land use section. The team engaged with Officers in a way that would encourage staff to embrace the impending change and transition smoothly into a new, more efficient way of doing business.
The transition to the new digital platform was a significant change for some and needed to be delivered in a way that kept resistance to a minimum. The Team achieved this by visibly and consistently offering support to staff to overcome short-term challenges. It was no surprise that the change was initially met with trepidation and fear.
One officer, a Building Inspector, called Bradley, was adamant that the Building Team “would never be able to work electronically.” As a leader and mentor within Council, the Project Team knew they needed to get Bradley (and other key team influencers) on board if the project would have any chance of succeeding.
They knew that they had to demonstrate (practically) how the change to digital would benefit customers and council colleagues. They also had to shift the focus from all the reasons why a digital process wouldn’t work to all the benefits that the change to digital would bring.
With the help of a very patient and talented consultant from Redman Solutions, the team worked closely with Bradley and others to discover where resistance was coming from. They took the time to be curious, listen, understand, and then troubleshoot solutions for what wasn’t working.
For example, one of the challenges Bradley faced was that the screen on his tablet was too small, and there was too much glare on the screen when out in the field. In short, the technology wasn’t fit for purpose. When Council provided him with a different device, he loved it and could experience the benefits, advantages, and efficiencies the technology could deliver to him.
A few months later, the team reported that it was like working with a different person. Bradley had transformed into the “poster boy” for digital transformation at Council and has been instrumental in mentoring less experienced officers to transition to the digital way of working. From that time on, if anyone suggested that something couldn’t be done, team members across Council would simply respond - “If Bradley can do it, so can you!”
Step Two: Engage customers to help inform and design the change
During the early period of the digital transformation project, a small group of stakeholders well known to the Council, including Planning Consultants, Private Certifiers, and regular building/plumbing Applicants were identified as important to the success of the project.
The Project Team Leader, Jo McLennan, Executive Officer – Liveability and Wellbeing, strategically approached and engaged a core group of external customers to participate in this project. Not surprisingly, the customers were keen as mustard to be part of the solution.
“When we began the digital assessment project, we targeted our external customers upfront. We asked them what they wanted to experience, and then we did whatever we had to do to make the back-end deliver what the customer wanted on the front end,” Ms. McLennan said.
The strength and positivity of existing relationships with the Stakeholder Group meant that Council could trust the feedback supplied. They even engaged these stakeholders in the go-live process to work through the bugs and kinks and make sure the system delivered exactly what they needed.
One of the Stakeholders, a local swimming pool installer, traditionally lodged hard copy applications over the counter or scanned and emailed her applications to Council. She would then wait to be contacted by Council to make payment which added extra time delay to the overall process.
Now, she can lodge and pay her applications all from the convenience of her home office at a time that suits her. She has regularly communicated her delight with the whole process, saying that it is much more efficient for her and Council.
Step Three: Communicate and educate to create change
To build a digital assessment platform that enables customers to enquire, lodge, track and pay for their planning applications online, Council needed to procure, configure and deploy several different software solutions. More importantly, those different software solutions needed to all talk to each other and deliver a seamless experience for the system's internal and external users.
Mobile devices were purchased and configured to suit individual officers' needs, and training was delivered as required to ensure assessing officers were competent and confident moving forward.
As each stage went live, multiple team visits and training sessions were scheduled to educate Officers across Council. Educational flyers were produced and shared via bulk mailouts to enlighten the community about the project's progress.
Updates were provided at team meetings, and the weekly staff bulletin and inter-department visits were scheduled. Revised work instructions were produced and uploaded to Council’s intranet to facilitate a smooth transition to the digital platform for staff organisation-wide.
Frontline Customer Support Officers (CSOs) were influential during the early period of the transformation by educating the public and guiding customers to take a leap of faith and utilise the digital framework. Frequently, the CSOs would step customers through the lodgement process screen by screen. Messages on hold were updated, informing customers about the new efficient way to do business with Council.
Step Four: Recognise and celebrate the change
Livingstone Shire has become more efficient since transforming its digital planning and building approvals process. Processing delays have been reduced, and customers are growing in confidence to do business with Council more frequently using online services.
The online applications system went live in May 2017, and in that time, the number of land use applications lodged online has dramatically increased:
May 2017 5 lodged online
June 2017 20 lodged online
July 2017 29 lodged online
May 2018 56 lodged online
July 2018 65 lodged online
Council Officers are becoming super competent with the new process and have stated how satisfying their roles are now based on the speed and efficiency the new way of working gives them. Regular Private Certifiers have gone from scanning and emailing all their applications to lodging all applications online now – which makes it faster for them and faster for Council.
Emily Szilveszter, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Livingstone Shire Council, has observed an important shift in how customers engage with the Council following the successful implementation of this project.
“People just want to get the result they want with minimal fuss. Our customers expect to be able to do business with Council in the way and at the time of day that is most convenient to them. This project is a great example of how Council is delivering that for our community,” Ms Szilveszter said.
Step Five: Identify and invest in the next opportunity for change
Council is now looking to expand the digital transformation project to other areas of the Council, including animal registrations, health licencing for public health, and local laws.
The other focus will be to keep promoting the “do business with the council online” message to the community. There are still people in the community that don’t realise they can access services online, so Council plans to continue to educate and encourage the community to engage with Council online and improve their overall experience of working with Council.