Each year the Christchurch City Council runs a survey to measure how satisfied citizens are with its service. While the citizens of the municipality hold their council in high regard, they also identified a key area where the council could improve: make it easier to interact with its services.

That feedback from its constituents lead the council to embark on an important upgrade of its digital services as part of a transformation of the way it works, according to Dana Burnett, My Council Programme Manager, Christchurch City Council.

“And that has been the continual feedback from people to us. They would say‘We can’t do what we want online, it’s really complex, it’s hard to understand’. That’s really what’s been driving us.”

But there was another agenda to the transformation that was just as important, says Burnett. “We’re a council, and we’re in the business of people, cities, and communities. And the end goal out of that is then the citizens start to trust you, and they become more engaged in actually having their say in the future of the city and the decisions that we make.”

Which-50 interviewed Burnett at the recent SAP CX conference in Barcelona.

As a result of feedback from its citizens, the council began its transformation by looking at improving self-service options.

Giving people a sense of control over their interactions adds to the overall experience of dealing with the council. “One of the big changes that we have made concerned feedback about how a query is progressing. Previously, if you wanted to find out the status of service request you would have to ring up the council and ask on the phone. Now we send you an automatic notification saying it’s in progress, or it’s with this person, or it’s been completed. That’s  a really significant change.”

Scaffolding

It is a simple example but an important one. Transformation is an ongoing process that required the council to look at its foundational technology and its approaches to working, and how it was organised for action.

“Some of legacy technology was twenty years old. Think back twenty years ago — there was no online shopping, no Facebook, no YouTube, and phones were just phones,” Burnett said.

In seeking to change its legacy systems, the council needed to review the way it manages its information.

To ensure its new infrastructure meets the needs of its customers in the best way, rather than simply bandaging over problems, the working groups in the council spent up to six months understanding what needed to change not just in terms of systems, but also in mindset.

This is especially the case in an organisation with many longtime staff who were used to working in a specific way.

“We very much took the approach of meeting the staff to talk about the change. It was a business-led, staff-led change. This was also reflected in the ultimate delivery where the council adopted a ‘train the trainer’ approach,” Burnett said.

“That culture change started six months before we even looked at the  technologies.”

Ultimately, building systems that worked better for customers, the council also made life easier for its staff.

“A good example is our animal management team and officers. Previously, if for instance there was a barking dog somewhere, someone might ring up and report it. Then a customer services officer would take him in through our old system, and ultimately it would get written down for the animal management handling officer,” she said.

“And our animal management officers, they walk around with about eight books in their bag and it could be a couple of thousand pages. Now they all have field service devices, where they can update information and they don’t have to go back to the office to key anything in. And notifications are also sent out to them in the field so they don’t have to come back in.”

The council is also leveraging geographical information systems better.

“With our cloud services, every time we take a service or a job, we can attach the location for it or a sensor can be assigned to the location. [For example] if we see that an area has a lot graffiti tickets we might decide to roll out an education program in the area.”

There is an additional benefit for those ultimately responsible for the council’s services. “For our councillors, they can also see what’s happening in the area and what people are saying.”

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