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Cost-saving integration at Norwich enables wide-ranging text alerts

19 November 2014

Norwich City Council has introduced text alerts across a wide range of service areas, underpinned by a cost-effective programme of integration to ensure consistent and valid data. As well as improving customer communications, the new approach also meant the council did not have to spend at least £50,000 a year on costly and time-intensive manual data checking and re-keying.

The initial integrations were across just a few systems and processes, including automating notifications of death. It would have cost in excess of £50,000 a year if these processes were carried out manually: if this had been the case, the council would not have introduced the new text service. Other savings are imminent as more integrations using NDL’s application integration toolkit (awi SX) take place across additional service areas and legacy systems.

Norwich wanted to reach citizens via texts to increase the effectiveness of its communications. However it had inconsistent mobile numbers across a number of different databases as its CRM system and key legacy back-office systems were each operated and updated in isolation.

Checking and updating this same information across all the other systems would then either take up significant time and resource or not take place at all. To automate data validation, it decided to embark on a programme of integration with its IT partners LGSS for its CRM and back-office systems, starting with three core systems across its housing, revenues and benefits, and customer contact teams.

Investing in multiple individual APIs was prohibitively expensive. Instead, LGSS recommended opting for awi SX, NDL’s server-based application integration software toolkit. The cost of this is typically equivalent to or less than acquiring one API, saving considerable capital investment.

Now, when mobile phone numbers and other key data such as email, date of birth, national insurance number and customer flag are entered or updated in the CRM or in the core housing and revenues back-office systems, these are updated across all the others, ensuring consistent and trustworthy data. As a result of having accurate and consistent data, Norwich has been able to embark on a programme of text alerts. These will rise significantly as the integrations expand to other processes and systems.

The first text alerts comprised local election reminders, information about the council’s Switch & Save energy scheme and promotion of individual electoral registration. Norwich now plans to send out reminders about council tax arrears to avoid the expensive and stressful process of passing those concerned through to a summons.

Norwich has also used awi SX to improve data quality and remove manual checking and re-keying across a number of other areas, including the notification of death process. Previously, service areas would be sent names of the deceased and would manually check if these were on their systems. Now, awi SX automatically checks 17 different databases for these names: each service area then only receives notifications if that name is present. For example, when the council looked at its allotments database, only 46 out of a recently deceased list of 1800 were identified as allotment holders. By identifying these in advance, it removed the need to check manually through 1754 irrelevant names.

Other integrations include automatic updating of the government’s void property database as well as automatic job creation of fly-tipping service requests. The latter enables the contractor to attend and deal with fly-tipping reports by customers. These are then recorded automatically in back-office systems.

Dan Badham-Browne, contact development manager at Norwich City Council, said: “Because core customer data wasn’t verified across all systems, our aim of using text alerts was simply impossible. But the investment needed to connect individual systems to one another in a conventional way was not a justifiable expense.

“By using NDL’s awi SX, we’ve been able to introduce a sustainable in-house programme of integrations that is cost-effective. As a result, each of our service areas has sufficient confidence in the data for text alerts to take place.

“This has also given us the opportunity to integrate in other areas and, despite being only at the very early days of our programme, we are already making significant savings in both time and money. Far higher savings are going to be made as more systems are connected and more processes are automated.”

Declan Grogan, Managing Director of NDL, commented: “Our research and anecdotal evidence shows that, against the background of severe budget cuts but demands for more effective services, too many councils are wasting valuable time and resource through wasteful manual re-keying. Norwich CC has demonstrated that, through simple and imaginative integration, they can save significant costs – but at the same time introduce major efficiencies and improvements to service delivery.

They are at an early stage in the process but have already achieved extraordinary results: the benefits and cost-savings are likely to rise exponentially.”

NDL Software Ltd supplies easy-to-use software toolkits to integrate disparate back-office systems and to develop offline, cross-platform mobile business applications. By radically simplifying these two key areas, NDL has given over 200 UK public sector organisations across local government and the NHS the ability to integrate and mobilise their systems. This has resulted in significant savings of both time and money, changing the way frontline services are being delivered. With a pedigree stretching over 30 years, NDL is a profitable UK company priding itself on both technical innovation and high standards of customer care.