Focus – platforms: Surrey County Council

29 Sep 2015, 4:28 pm

Local Digital talks to Surrey County Council about how its digital programme is laying the foundation for better services and reducing supplier lock in and duplication through a platform approach and open standards.

Zendesk_screenshotThe concept of platforms is about joining up people, information and systems across the Council’s services, says Mark Edridge, Digital Programmes Manager at Surrey County Council.

“Traditional technology often focuses on individual services” says Edridge. Instead, a set of cross-cutting digital platforms are being deployed under the Council’s digital programme, covering data; customer interaction; integrated care (health records); staff interaction; and knowledge management and collaboration.

A team of ‘platforms managers’ working under Surrey’s Chief Digital Officer – the first role of its kind in the country – is overseeing their roll-out across the council in collaboration with partners.

Also underway as part of the programme are three exemplar digital pilots – a customer contact system, a vulnerable people analytics system and an open data pilot – to test a variety of new digital transformation delivery methods. “The pilot projects are a more tangible way of showing value. We’re keeping our eyes on the end game while offering solutions to business problems along the way”, Edridge tells Local Digital.

Viability proof

The exemplars will prove whether chosen technologies and methods work and demonstrate savings to the Council (Surrey must make savings in the region of £200 million over next few years). One such pilot, to improve customer services, aims to join up customer communication regardless of the medium.

Traditionally, Surrey’s contact centre used multiple line-of-business systems to respond to customer queries, log information about calls and record customer calls based on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology. This meant that agents would pick up a message from Twitter, text message or email, and create a new case each time in different line-of-business systems, across 20 main transactions.

“Many of the systems at the council are good at supporting the delivery of a particular service or managing the assets looked after by Surrey, but they don’t provide us with a joined up approach to managing requests or enquiries from our residents”, says Edridge. “As such, our contact centre staff currently log or look up information in a number of places”.

The customer contact exemplar is looking to improve the experience for staff and residents with a fresh approach to technology.

The new approach will function across council services regardless of department, whether Social Care, Highways or Fire (Surrey has one of the few Fire departments that comes under administrative control of the Council).

Open standards

“The design principles we follow support technology with open standards that provide breadth across the organisation. This will help join up knowledge and information across the council and avoid duplication”, says Edridge.

“It means that if the Council wants to implement a change to the service, there is limited impact on the various processes that sit beneath. With the digital platform approach, we’re not locked in to propriety systems”, he says.

Instead, they work with an architecture comprised of “changeable components” which “split things out” via the platform, according to Edridge. Each component – or layer – provides a different, vital cog in the machine, including layers for integration and call logging.

One such layer joins up all communication from the customer whether via phone call, email or social media. It is based on an open standard and easily integrates therefore with Surrey’s back office system. Zendesk, from the company of the same name, lets agents see customer contact history, notes and method of communication.


Edridge and his team are beginning to take the project further, experimenting with integrating cloud-based Zendesk with specific Council functions, starting with Highways reporting service. This means that when a resident emails or uses social media to communicate a problem to the council, the agent enters it in Zendesk and it gets logged directly in Highways systems so that they can get straight on with fixing the problem.

The challenges of implementation are less about the technology and more about convincing senior leaders, or as Edridge puts it: “seeing the value of transformation, changing business models and articulating that in a way that local government business leaders can understand”.

“If you want technology to really inform transformation, it’s cyclical. You need to show what the technology can do to inspire change in the business. It means bringing the technology in and using technology to inspire change. It’s a reversal of how we used to think about IT. That’s why collaboration is so important”.

Image credit: Zendesk