A smarter approach to digital transformation

A partnership of councils are jointly funding a responsive, independent, not-for-profit consultancy, Smarter Digital Services, to help them to achieve their digital ambitions.


The Smarter Digital Services team was created in 2013 with the strong support of Local Authority Chief Executives, to help councils to improve and increase their digital and online services, realise efficiency savings and most importantly enhance customer experience.

The team featured in this year's LGA Innovation Zone as it is unique in the way it operates, offering external challenge, expert advice and valuable resources to councils on the next stage of their digital journey.

The challenge:

The digital landscape has shifted considerably over the last few years. Business as usual is no longer an option, a sustainable future for local government depends on changing the way we do things. Our customers now expect and want to access services digitally. User focused digital services are the key to local authorities reducing the cost of service delivery whilst maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction.  

The solution:

The Smarter Digital Services Team are adaptable and flexible, constantly learning new skills to help support partners get to grips with new digital developments and the opportunities these bring.

The team have skills and expertise in:

  • User research : Gaining a deep insight into users needs, experiences and feelings, capturing the user journey and mapping this out.
  • User testing: User testing  ‘real life’ scenarios, online forms, transactional processes and prototypes.
  • Business process analysis and re-engineering: analysing and capturing  data, cost to serve analysis, stakeholder engagement, process mapping, end to end digital service design, LEAN design approaches
  • Developing innovative solutions based on user needs: widely used tools and software and coordinating partnerships for joint procurement and accessing partnership grants.
  • Website development and improvement: website analytics, appraisal and audits, design and content tips and trends, structure planning, user testing, analytics training.

In addition to this the team share good practice, industry knowledge and practical insights and deliver workshops and training free of charge to their partners.

The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable):

Many of the projects the Smarter Digital Services team have worked on with their local authority partners have resulted in cost savings for the local authorities. Some examples of these include:

All Kent Councils: Development of an online homelessness triage tool and housing application pre assessment. The new tools will transform the way that people across Kent and Medway are able to access housing support and dramatically reduce the amount officer time spent dealing with ineligible applications.

Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Sevenoaks: Developing an electronic knowledge test for taxi drivers, reducing officer time spent supervising and marking the test.

Shepway: Introducing EventApp is saving event officers and Safety Advisory group members a lot of time as well as making the application process a lot easier for customers.

Tunbridge Wells: User testing the website showed just 60% were successful at finding out what day their bins were collected. Subsequent changes to the webpages has meant that now 89% are successful, reducing the numbers of residents contacting the council about this.

How is the new approach being sustained?:

The Smarter Digital Services team is unique in the way it is self sustaining, being jointly funded by contributions from the local authorities it works with. The team has already started doing paid work for other local authorities not in the partnership and going forwards is looking to develop this commercial approach.

Lessons learned:

Some of the lessons we have learnt through working on digital projects with our partners are:

  • Digital transformation is only partly a technological challenge, most of it is people
  • Understand user need and re-design services around this
  • User testing and research with just five to eight people will expose 80% of the issues
  • Don’t make assumptions about your users
  • Use open standards and open sources - don’t reinvent the wheel
  • Start small, iterate and improve - an accumulation of small successes, makes a big difference.
  • Technology should be an enabler not a blocker
  • Build teams with the right skills

Contact: Catherine Bright SDS Team Manager

T: 01892 554123 / 07971 399791

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