In this series of blogs, Marcus Devaney, Product Manager at IEG4, looks at recent improvements in central government Blue Badge application processing and the opportunity this provides for local councils to provide an integrated digital service.
This blog explains how the Blue Badge process has been synchronised across central and local systems within Kent County Council and Surrey County Council in order to offer their applicants a level of customer service not previously seen in the Blue Badge process.
Remember the old Blue Badge application processing?
The previous centrally offered Blue Badge application process was once described as ‘the most complained about service’ of the DfT.
Recent changes to the central government Blue Badge web service means that the solution has been re-built with a modern architecture. This offers opportunity for improved integration, through the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), to software developers who understand the processing needs and challenges of local councils. Vital, alongside this understanding, is a design philosophy and a determination to create, from the start, solutions which are simply effective for both the Blue Badge applicant and the council.
The new central government system is good, but it doesn’t cater for the support of local processing nuances. Even with the new central system, an applicant can quickly lose sight of progress as the application enters a ‘black hole’ between central and local processing systems. This communication void creates uncertainty and can generate more traffic and unnecessary contact to the local council. The lack of an integrated local system to answer Blue Badge-related questions swiftly and accurately compounds the problem.
We all expect a great digital experience, because examples are all around us
Smartphones are everywhere. Pervasive in our society and psyche, they are often the first thing we reach for as we get up in the morning and ‘jump to’ when they ring or ping. Any end-user digital experience must be designed for mobile first. The smartphone offers service providers the perfect tool to communicate with their customers digitally at the appropriate stage, whether that be through a detailed email, or via an informative SMS and embedded web link.
Designing Blue Badge around the user-experience is fundamental
The principles of understanding the customer journey and keeping the customer informed about progress at each key stage are fundamental.
By synchronising activities across different solution components (central Blue Badge, local council and a self-serve portal), the Blue Badge applicant can:
- make the first application using the central gov and receive a case reference;
- receive acknowledgement and confirmation that their local council has picked up the application
- login to the self-serve portal using case reference, surname and postcode;
- be informed about progress, next steps and expected service levels;
- be asked for and upload further information to support the application;
- be given links to further questions depending on the case;
- make payment using GOV.UK Pay called from the central or self-serve portal;
- be advised of the need for and details of further assessments;
- check on-going status and receive confirmation of Blue Badge eligibility at the end of the process.
With IEG4’s Digital Blue Badge solution, the local council controls the stages of the journey and puts the onus on the applicant to play their part in going through it.
The result at Kent County Council, within three months of offering a local Digital Blue Badge service, has seen a 65% reduction in in-bound calls and a time saving on the administration of each Blue Badge application submission.
Effective & flexible case management co-ordinates council activities
On the council side of the applicant’s self-service portal is a Digital Blue Badge case management system which helps the council to drive applications through their eligibility process.
As mentioned in my second blog in this series, councils which need the flexibility to adapt the standard process, can define any number of workflows, assessment questions and work-stages using ‘low code’ techniques. Importantly, putting councils in control of their continuous improvement agenda, the ‘low code’ technique should not require external or IT intervention.
As each stage within a Blue Badge application is completed, progress on the applicants’ case is updated. Expectations are communicated to the applicant, notifying the timing of each step. Depending on an applicant’s communication choice, councils can send updates via email or SMS, or, if necessary, via non-digital methods.
Effective workflow allocates tasks to individuals. This increases their focus on performing each particular stage within the process and within a time-frame as outlined by the workflow. Information supporting the application is stored digitally under each case, thereby reducing paper handling costs and delays. With all information visible in one place, decisions can be made faster and with greater consistency.
When an application is deemed eligible by local processing with all required evidence, the local council system communicates with the central government system to authorise the central production and dispatch of the Blue Badge.
Keeping activities in sync across separate platforms is critical for an effective digital service
By focusing on the end-user experience and designing the solution to be mobile first, clarity emerges regarding what information is needed and what is missing. Solution providers must fix the plumbing between the different systems - central, local and applicant - to ensure key information is available and accessible where and when needed.
Our mission in IEG4 is to enable digital transformation that is simply effective for everyone. Evidence from the early adopters of our Blue Badge system, and the positive feedback from their Blue Badge applicants, suggests that we are doing that.