Our solutions have always been driven by customer needs. Astun’s business started by helping local authorities to deliver on e-government objectives; one of our first focus areas was to harness the benefits of ‘channel shift.’ More recently we have been engaged in supporting local consultations and INSPIRE compliance.
The common thread in these solutions areas has been the provision of Geographic Intelligence and infrastructure to enable our customers to respond to new policy initiatives and the issues of the day. Our iShare platform and bespoke solutions have evolved to respond to new requirements and changing working patterns such as the increased use of mobile devices by both staff and customers.
The customer experience for both citizens and businesses when contacting their local council should be one which is responsive, timely and efficient. By identifying customer contact that is ‘avoidable’, a local authority can redesign the way services and information are delivered to customers, so they do not have to make unnecessary, valueless contacts which are both frustrating for the customer and inefficient for the provider.
Channel shift is the process of encouraging customers to switch from phone and face to face contacts to self-serving via the web. Examples include:
- Highways (condition of roads, street lighting)
- Housing (benefit claims, council tax benefit, repairs, allocations and lettings process for social housing)
- Environmental Health services (licensing, food safety, pollution and pest control)
- Waste collection and street cleaning, including recycling, street furniture and fly-tipping
- General council tax enquiries, billing and recovery process for payment of council tax and national non-domestic rates
- Planning services (local planning issues) and building control
- Electoral Registration
- Parking permits and Parking Control Notices.
SOCITM suggests that ALL enquiries coming into a council through non-web channels for information and transactions that are available on the web should be regarded as 'avoidable contacts'. If a local authority can encourage more users to self-serve and use their website rather than to use the phone or dropping in to a council office it will become more efficient and reduce its service delivery costs.
So how does iShare help? iShare enables citizens to self-serve without contacting the council and the My Alerts email service enables citizens to get direct email notifications to ensure that they are up to date with what is going on in their area.
Driving channel shift at South Tyneside
South Tyneside Council has hard statistics that back up the reported efficiency gains through its use of iShare and My Alerts. The stats for Waste and Recycling recorded between March and April at their peak showed that telephone calls accounted for 91% of all interactions. Changes to South Tyneside’s web site including the deployment of iShare Maps resulted in a major channel shift with 61% of interactions made via the web. At the same time the total number of interactions increased by 57%!
The average cost per interaction estimated at the time fell from a peak of £2.97 to £1.25 which represents an estimated saving of £43,000 p.a. A user survey indicated that levels of customer satisfaction increased as people shifted over to the web.
Self-Service at Wycombe District Council
In 2011 Wycombe District Council implemented iShare. 'My Wycombe' was fully integrated into the Council's website.
Since that time visits to the site and the number of unique visitors have been growing year on year, proof positive that iShare keeps delivering on the self-service and 'Channel Shift' promise.
In 2014/15 the stats for the site were as follows
137,106 visits in the year, an average of 376 visits a day (+ 31% on 2013/14)
101,464 unique visitors in the year (+ 40% on 2013/14)
1,045 users are now registered to receive email alerts for new and decided planning applications - up 18% on 2013/14
My Wycombe continues to contribute well to the Council’s 'Self Service' Project and has featured several notable additions to information during the year. These include the embedded Collections and Protected Trees embedded map.
Increase in subscriptions to planning alerts continues, and several compliments have been received for this element of the service.
Of passing interest, the number of people accessing the site via mobile phone or tablet is still increasing. The rise in popularity of Safari and Chrome browsers continues, at the expense of IE. It is even more important to support all the main browser platforms.
Migration to iShare 5.2 and new servers was completed in July 2014, and since then the average response time for My Wycombe has reduced.
INSPIRE is an EU directive requiring the publication of geospatial information related to the environment. INSPIRE makes environmental geospatial data easily discoverable and usable to improve planning, research and policy making. Local Authorities have an obligation to publish a wide range of data themes under the legislation, an excellent summary of the requirements is provided by the Local Government Association. The principles and infrastructure that underpin INSPIRE can deliver additional data sharing benefits within and between Local Authorities.
We developed our Get INSPIREd program to help Local Authorities and other public sector data owners to meet their INSPIRE obligations. Get INSPIREd is normally delivered ‘in the cloud’ as a fully hosted solution (also available through the G-Cloud Store). Get INSPIREd provides Discovery, View and Download services plus training and support when creating compliant metadata and publishing it to data.gov.uk. See an example here.
Getting INSPIREd at Wycombe DC
When Wycombe District Council (WDC) started out it had most of the GIS map layers required for INSPIRE in place and many of them were already being published through iShare. The majority focus on the planning area (30+) covering planning policy or planning constraints. The others cover environmental health, land owned by the council and there’s one detailing allotments so there are around 40 in all.
An Astun consultant installed GeoNetwork on the WDC infrastructure and supported the WDC team in creating their metadata and harvesting into GeoNetwork. After a final audit of the metada and testing of the services, Wycombe submitted their data to data.gov.uk - this stage sees the posting of the metadata catalogue, which includes links to each layer and thus enables the main elements of INSPIRE i.e. Discover, View and Download services. Job done! You can view two case studies about Wycombe District Council's INSPIRE project:
The wide adoption of smart phones and tablet computers at both home and work and the advance of the mobile internet has meant a huge change in the way that people now interact and consume information. Now websites and web applications have to be accessible whatever device is in use, responding to different screen sizes and interfaces.
Astun has responded to these new imperatives by applying a responsive web design approach. This is focused on crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience that delivers easy reading and navigation with a minimum of panning, zooming and scrolling across a wide range of devices. iShare Maps and iShare GIS are fully accessible and responsive, regardless of the device in use supporting customers and staff on the move.
If you wondering how a responsive site will work for you try one of these on your mobile or tablet. You can navigate to iShare in the normal way by typing any number in the Postcode search box.
Local Plans, formerly Local Development Frameworks set out the strategic vision and objectives for an area, how it will look in 15–20 years’ time and what are the key objectives.
A Local Plan sets out the ‘spatial strategy’ - what the general location of development will be, including any significant areas of change or conservation. A Local Plan will identify strategic sites needed for development, such as urban extensions to increase the size of a town or city, new settlements, or the locations of major regeneration or redevelopment schemes. A Local Plan can also include more general policies to guide how development takes place, what issues developers must take into account, and how development should look (Development Management Policies). Development Plan Documents (DPDs) set out which areas of land are planned for development (shown on a ‘proposals map’) and their proposed use.
Astun provides a solution that enables planning authorities to publish the geographic details of their Local Plans using a basic iShare deployment. A Local Plan implementation features a standard iShare map portal, the ability to display multiple layers and enhanced search facilities. Users, typically developers, contractors, council staff and members of the public can search on features, policy proposals or by a specific address.
Astun has responded to requests to create intereactive web maps for Local Plans. The planning department at Plymouth City Council, for example, wished to publish their Plymouth Plan Proposals and their solution uses a standard deployment of iShare which is hosted by Astun in the cloud.