Features: November 26th, 2002

Liverpool’s E-volution

By David Henshaw

Reproduced by permission of eGov Monitor Weekly http://www.egovmonitor.com/newsletter/signup.asp

Not so long ago, Liverpool city council’s investment in technology was virtually non existent. There was no overall strategy and different departments had different computer systems. None of them were compatible. This symbolised the silo mentality that pervaded every area of the organisation and contributed to the bureaucracy and red tape that led to the poor services that the city was infamous for.

Playing catch up through gradual change and improvement was not an option. A giant leap forward was needed.

Now, just a few short years later, the city council is becoming one of the most electronically advanced in the country. Put simply, Liverpool is being transformed from sea port to e-port.

Investment in new technology is helping to drive that change. Outdated IT systems and working practices are being replaced by 21st century technology. A groundbreaking joint venture between the City Council and BT, worth ? million over 10 years combined with ? investment, is the key.

Call center always open

The joint venture, known as Liverpool Direct Ltd (LDL), is already having a huge impact on services in the city. The council’s call-centre Liverpool Direct, run by LDL, is now the largest council-run customer contact centre in the UK, taking 36,000 calls a week. It is putting the council more in touch with residents than ever before, and is now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and took its two millionth call in December 2001.

As well as the call-centre, LDL has set up a network of state-of-the-art One Stop Shops. Located at the heart of Liverpool’s communities, they are allowing people to get information and advice about the Council on their own doorstep in comfortable, welcoming surroundings. Highly trained staff are using the latest technology to cut waiting times and improve customer service.

The e-government revolution is allowing residents to contact people anytime, anywhere. Contrast this with the days when the city council was only available from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday and callers would be passed from one department to another in a sometimes fruitless and frustrating search for the right person to answer the enquiry. Now, in 90% of cases, a customer’s call is resolved first time without them having to be put through to another department.

The City Council is demonstrating real commitment to hitting e-government targets which require all possible services to be delivered electronically by 2005. Indeed, it has taken the lead in a number of e-government projects, including pioneering e-voting at the last local elections.

Better customer relations

And a ?deal between LDL and Oracle, is also enabling the city council to significantly cut down on paper-based processes and streamline its systems. The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology is bringing together 220 Council IT systems and over 500 databases into one, central database. This means staff can call up complete customer profiles from a single point, allowing them to provide a personalised, individual service for each resident. If, for example, you change address, you only have to call one number instead of having to contact individual council departments such as education awards, council tax and housing benefit to tell them.

Normal office practices have changed, as the city council moves towards becoming a ‘paperless’ organisation. An Electronic Document Management system for revenues and benefits means all forms and correspondence will soon be distributed electronically. E-procurement will be on-line by 2003, allowing all council transactions to take place electronically – saving more than ?a year by eliminating the endless invoice paper chase. And one million square feet of office space is being reclaimed by scanning thousands of filing cabinet documents onto a few dozen CD’s.

But technology is not just a tool to transform services, meet e-government deadlines and attract new business – it’s a way of establishing closer links between council management and staff, our customers and the business community.

Liverpool City Council is now becoming a true 21st century city, and is seen as an innovator and leader in the modernising agenda.

The city’s call-centre and One Stop Shops have received more than 150 official visits from civil servants, government ministers and agencies. Organisations from countries as far afield as Australia and New Zealand have visited to find out how Liverpool is doing things differently.

Marketing services

Things have changed so much that Liverpool is preparing to sell its services to both the public and private sector. The vehicle for this, ‘NewCo’, will use the expertise of the city council’s new managers and workforce to offer consultancy, products and services to other councils and private companies.

Liverpool Direct is a good example. The software and systems we have now can be expanded easily. NewCo wouldn’t just be limited to Liverpool Direct. Over the last few years we have built up a lot of expertise across the authority and that means that our intelligence is very marketable. We could, for example, carry out consultancy work for the public and private sector.

In just a few years, Liverpool City Council has changed from the basket case of local government to a local authority synonymous with progress and innovation. The city is now at the forefront of the e-government agenda and it is local residents who are benefiting most.

David Henshaw is the Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council.

? KAM Ltd 2002