12 colleagues from 9 iNetwork member and two guest councils took part in the latest DMF on Wed 28 June 2017. We discussed Single Sign-on Citizen platforms and how this approach may complement or clash with customer apps that councils developed during recent years of channel shift.

Fylde Council kindly hosted the round table session. Interpretations and expectations of Single Sign-on varied. No one present expressed their organisations reluctance to embrace the technology, although even its biggest advocates within the group had experienced plenty of frustrations in implementing it; not least financial and organisational.

To some, it is a way to save customers having to sign into each digital application separately. Once signed-in, however, separate apps, datasets and incidental manual processes inevitably remained in full swing; including payment by cheque in some cases.

To others, it is an all-encompassing infrastructure that enables end to end transactions, integrates and validates data and automates incidental processes.

A thought provoking and useful session; came away with some good ideas, inspiration and contacts. Thank you.

I found all the speakers engaging. They have given me much on which to reflect.

For those that had no other option, due to considerable on-going cuts, getting single sign on right seemed like a fight for survival. Listening to the enormity of their task helped the group either realise that SSO was much bigger an initiative than previously thought or feel reassured that their own efforts were reconcilable with fellow proactive Councils across the region.

Ross McKelvie (ICT Projects Development Officer, Fylde Council) and John Fariclough (Business Solutions Analyst, Knowsley Council) both offered direct perspectives from their part in implementing SSO within their respective organisations.


Their presentation styles were engaging and they covered a remarkably broad range of issues. They both encouraged a wave of questions from attendees. The presentations and incidental group discussions throughout the morning touched on various aspects, including:


A threshold for viability

Apart from your organisation’s vision for or interpretation of SSO, the number of services you wish to offer to customers through the platform could serve as an initial benchmark. Weigh up your capacity and your customer demand; is it worth it all? SSO should not become SOS, although like most other things, done incorrectly could open a can of complexity worms!

Whether for the sheer infrequency of customer transactions expected online or for the consideration of personalised need in using Council services, it was widely thought that a fast track guest check out option could remain a preferable choice for a large number of customers.


Customer concerns are your concerns

The group discussed the effectiveness of engaging customers; from targeted market research at the outset of SSO projects to post transaction questionnaires whilst SSO was up and running. It is all too easy to expect customers to willingly sign up to their council’s My Account platform, as they presumably do already with large online retailers and social media sites. More so in light of recent cyber-attacks and security breaches, added to the back drop of citizen privacy and government liability, tailoring the capturing of data to the required transaction could encourage more customers to use SSO, albeit gradually. A tell us everything, although we’re not sure why we are asking you in the first place, approach is not recommended. Your customers’ input and buy in invaluable.


Evolution of the Digital Officer

Is the up-skilling of customer service staff part of your channel shift programme? Telephone and or face to face interactions are not replaced by a single all-capable digital channel. If anything, digital offers vast channels. These all need to be designed, built and maintained. Their performance will need to be assed and their development informed by people; your people?

However, staff retention is one of the key issues the group brought to light. With more and more in house development taking place, up-skilled staff had a tendency to fly the nest due to better wages offered in the private sector.

Programmes with Universities have proved to be successful. The aim being to get a few years out of graduate developers, before they too go elsewhere.

Shouldn’t a modern council be a destination of choice for Digital Officers and Developers?  Would a capable in-house Team free up funds from being paid on unfruitful 3rd party contracts? Would that capable in-house Team also be able to generate income for their council? Should councils accept that suppliers will block progress if they can in exchange for a piece of the pie? Digital is anyone’s and everyone’s, are councils beginning to compete?

As a digital asset, council websites should no longer be static fronts populated by content, often cut and paste from this department or that, but dynamic portals of possibility, both for customers and councils.


Being strategic about disruption

Write a strategy, engage a supplier, not get the projected return on investment, struggle with outdated tech and suffer further cuts. Re-write a strategy, outsource, lack autonomy, incur further losses, have neither the staff nor infrastructure to deliver the strategic vision… Re-re-write a strategy?

Could keeping an “open mind” be as strategic as any Council needs to be, to avoid such vicious cycles? Is being strategic having a document that says so, or having a mind-set that allows you to think and do so?

The Digital Managers Forum is part of iNetwork’s Innovative Access to Public Services Programme; where opinions of Digital and Font-line Services are equally welcome and valued. It is a quarterly half-day informal session that gives all attendees a chance to share their thoughts in a safe environment. No sales pitches; just peer-led insights.

Be sure to join us next time.