Lancashire County Council

Lancashire County Council Digital Mailroom 

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

The creation of a new Digital Mailroom was a key objective of Digital Services management to maximise our resources in a streamlined and efficient way, to better serve both the internal and external customers of the organisation as well as realising efficiencies in terms of process, cost and environmental impact. By digitising mail and reducing paper flow around the organisation, removing duplication of effort and transport costs, and speeding up the time taken to distribute mail internally, the new approach has enabled our employees to work as efficiently as possible and use all digital channels available to them rather than a continued reliance on physical mail.

Whilst the project had (and continues to have) many benefits for the organisation, one of the most important was the transformational aspect, that recognised the fundamental changes in how staff work and enabled greater flexibility in those working patterns, therefore supporting wider corporate objectives. This in turn allowed the authority’s services to work more flexibly, eliminating the need to come into the office to view physical mail.

The initial objective was to onboard key services in a structured way focusing on those which were a high business priority, in the first instance teams such as Legal and Adult Social Care Support Services. A Digital Mail Board was established to drive and support the work of the project and proved invaluable in effectively onboarding services in a timely manner.

Additionally, through the new processes adopted by the project, we were able to encourage more records to be stored, shared and retrieved electronically in a consistent and safe way, thus helping to meet our data security responsibilities, through tighter controls and accurate Audit reporting.

What are the key achievements?

The first key achievement was in scanning mail to network drives to minimise the need for services to receive physical mail and reduce all the associated costs associated with this old process. The Digital Service initially successfully digitised over 60 individual service areas at this mail classification 1 stage; as the project has evolved since then, we are now scanning in the region of 7400 items per month. This has removed the need to manually deliver hard copy mail around the County Hall site, increasing efficiency in terms of process, resource allocation and staffing; this was realised through the procurement of dedicated mail scanning hardware and software enabling increased productivity. Equally, those more geographically remote services not located within the County Hall complex, are now enjoying the benefits of getting their mail quicker in a digital format; this change in our ways of working released the resource of one full time member of staff whose previous sole responsibility was to physically manually deliver the mail to all services within County Hall.

This resource is now used to support work in other areas of the service relating to scanning activity. As a result of the reduced requirement for handling physical mail, Digital Services were also able to reduce the number of internal mail vans and staff collecting mail from around the County, from four full time posts down to one part time post. Again, whilst this was an improvement from an operational perspective, a secondary environmental benefit was also realised, in reducing our organisational carbon footprint. As well as digitising our processes, our staff in service were given the opportunity to enhance their own skill sets and expertise. A small number of staff had been with the service for many years and had only ever been used to manual ways of working. Making these changes allowed staff to be introduced to the future of digital working and they soon began to understand the benefits streamlining this process brought to our ways of working. Training was provided for all staff to embrace and support the changes. Additionally, this allowed them to take their experiences and new found knowledge into their personal lives which supported individual confidence and aspirations

How Innovative is your initiative?

Our new innovative way of working allowed services to work together and embrace the change required to support digitisation. Support was given to those services who were previously not digitally enhanced in their business-as-usual approach. Once comfortable with the new approach, this allowed services to embrace the change and review their own manual processes when working with hard copy mail and transfer to more digital approaches, which in turn led to individual service innovations county wide.

A key example of this was our colleagues in business support finance team who previously received up to 100 delivery notes daily from our catering services suppliers. The previous manual process in place meant that time and resource was spent each day opening all the mail and putting these documents in separate piles in order to support the financial processes. The move to scanning of these mail items not only streamlined the services processes but allowed the release of this resource to support other areas of the business. Additionally, the storage and auditing of these documents became more simplified and less time consuming.

The initiative developed a three-stage classification process ranging from at its most basic scanning mail to a network folder, all the way to being able to extract important data from templated documents into lines of business systems. Rather than simply assume customer requirements, before commencing work Digital Services undertook consultation exercises to establish what was needed and how we, as a service, could deliver that. We worked with services asking them to complete a simple questionnaire which would provide key information that could be used from setting up the scan profiles to then passing over to our digital services technical colleagues to create the appropriate software requirements so the mail could be delivered correctly. Utilising current technologies, we were able, in some instances, give the customer a choice of options that best suited their needs; for example, some customers wanted the envelope scanning, whilst others didn’t.

Being flexible, considering and listening to the needs of each individual services was key to a seamless onboard to the digital era. Although we had a standard universal offer, as time evolved and confidences grew, we were also able to provide bespoke offerings for those services where a different approach was required. For example, original documents for certain service areas required extra care and attention and may have a requirement to be returned to the sender. This ability to adapt to customer requirements is a key factor in ensuring customer satisfaction and constantly ensuring that our service is effective and responsive. Following on from the success of this project and in the spirit of our continuous improvement ethos, we are looking ahead to enabling the need to move away from network drive storage, and to begin using the Documentum storage solution and tools, which offer wider benefits for other documents beyond mail. 

What are the key learning points?

In order to drive the project forward, the setting up of the correct governance around it was crucial. The establishment of a Digital Mail Board gave the project some gravitas and was key in getting buy-in from those internal services that initially had concerns, particularly in the areas of Information Governance and confidentiality.

Equally, effectively communicating the changes to our staff and listening to their feedback and ideas ensured they were fully engaged and onboard with the new ways of working, before we even considered rolling it out with our first service. Once established we quickly discovered that we were able to onboard multiple services and get them set up daily. This was especially beneficial when the COVID pandemic began. With the majority of LCC staff suddenly having to work from home, because we already had an effective and efficient process in place, we were able to switch to scanning mail organisationally wide, in a way which kept disruption to a minimum.

Mail Print and Scan now scan 95% of all mail received into service. The only exceptions are linked to services that require hard copy documentation for legislative purposes or have another business-critical requirement for hard copies, and as a service we need to be able to ensure that the service we deliver in these cases is just as effective as for all our other customers. This project whilst at times challenging has ultimately enabled us to realise objectives of not only the service itself but also the wider organisation, supporting our Digital Strategy and the County Council’s overall transformational aspirations to work more flexibly and efficiently. It has been driven by a team with the drive, vision and commitment to take the idea from conception to reality, leading with dedication and clarity of purpose that has enabled any obstacles to be overcome.