Exploring the user needs for mobile working so that common service design patterns to improve productivity and efficiency can be developed for use by the sector.

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

Across all local authorities there are significant numbers of staff spending their time out of the office. These staff rely on systems which create as many barriers to doing an effective job as they solve. These include time spent on basic administrative tasks, finding and carrying around paper case notes, making notes whilst on a visit and accessing historic information. On their return to the office they need to key their notes into back office systems. There’s time spent travelling to the office to get information and sometimes returning because vital information is missing. There is the issue of poor work scheduling causing inefficient route planning and wasted time. Being unable to gain quick and easy access to information prevents resolution at the first attempt.

Within this partnership bid of 4 local authorities, efforts to introduce mobile working to date have focused on implementing out of the box, vendor-specific solutions without an understanding of user needs, which has led to failed projects where the software does not meet the requirements of the business.

Mobile working solutions are often an afterthought, based on the desktop app where key features are missing because the architecture of the software prevents their deployment in a mobile working environment. Without a clear understanding of the needs of users and common design patterns, future efforts to introduce mobile working are likely doomed to the same fate. Even if the mobile applications did meet the requirements of the business, the end result is a proliferation of systems from different suppliers, with the associated support and training overheads.

A better solution would be the use of a single, configurable system for mobile working, with connections to the legacy systems through APIs. The system would meet a set of common design patterns established and documented through this Discovery project. This would allow a consistent user experience along with a reduced training and support requirement.

In this project, the aim will be to understand common needs of mobile workers across multiple local authorities and establish service design patterns based on the principle of ‘mobile first’ – that is, a process which is designed from the ground up to be delivered by a mobile worker rather than mobilising the tasks of a desk-based worker.

The users are principally the staff undertaking the mobile working, as well as businesses and residents who are indirectly affected by the outputs of the mobile working process.

We assume that the time and effort currently spent working outside the office has an impact on end user experience and hypothesise that more efficient mobile working will decrease turnaround times, create business efficiencies and improve customer experience.

We believe there is a business need for an enterprise mobile application, which is configurable to a standard look and feel, offering an accessible and user-friendly experience. Common service design patterns will inform the layout, flow and design of the mobile app to ensure a consistent and replicable experience regardless of business process.

Our approach will include a combination of quantitative and qualitative research to a) define the extent of the problem and b) explore the impact of the problem on users, both internal and external.

This includes desk-based research to understand transaction volumes, turnaround times, printing and labour costs, which will enable us to quantify the extent of the issues on business operations.

We will also research the current experience researching the current experience of those undertaking mobile working, including observing them at work. We will reach out to other organisations (public and private sector) to understand what best practice looks like.

We will also user research with businesses and residents to understand what their experience of being on the other side of our mobile working processes is like, identify their pain points and ensure their voice is heard in our service design process.

The research methods used will be drawn from the GDS Service Manual, specifically those recommended for the discovery phase such as creating personas, interviews, focus groups, observation and experience mapping. We will research with a broad range of users, including those with disabilities and low digital skills.

It is very likely that officers who are colour blind, hard of hearing, low vision, cognitive or motor impairments, seizure disorders or low digital skills are part of our mobile work force and it will be essential to gain their input during the Discovery phase.

Process mapping of the ‘as-is’ processes for a number of services has already been undertaken at Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, with the intent of redesigning them for mobile working. These ‘as-is’ maps will first be validated with the other three partners to check processes are broadly similar and then this Discovery project will build on that work by adding the extra dimension of user research, so that the ‘to-be’ processes are not redesigned in isolation from the user experience.

Companies offering mobile working solutions typically claim efficiency savings of between 10%-30% for a mobile optimised process over a traditional, desk-based equivalent.

One software company providing mobile working solutions estimates a saving for our shared Environmental Health service of £400k per annum in the third year of operating a mobile working system. They also estimate a 10% reduction in administrative tasks for mobile workers.

Scaled up for the sector, the potential is there for significant savings in the order of millions of pounds.

One aim of this Discovery project is to research the information available about cost savings arising from mobile working in both the private and public sector and provide a summary as a project output.

We will also create a framework to calculate cost savings for a typical local authority based on key measures quantifying the impact of mobile working on productivity and efficiency. We will collect data from within service areas across this project’s partners for;

  • number of visits / inspections per day
  • processing time
  • amount of paper printed
  • number of words rekeyed
  • number of people in the process
  • number of repeat visits
  • number of mobile processes
  • routes taken / mileage expenses
  • lost time spent travelling
  • lost time spent in office preparing for visits (scheduling, notes, system updates)
  • consequential administrative work arising from visits (posting of paperwork / documentation, payments)
  • impacts on business of delays in process (e.g. closed down restaurant being unable to re-open until certificate received following a visit)
  • visit related failure demand

From this information, we would expect to be able to scale up and quantify the size of the costs nationally.

Governance of the project will be established through the lead authority partner, with the senior responsible officer taking on the role of project executive / sponsor. Points of contact at each partner will comprise the remainder of the project board and approve the project’s plans and progress reports. All partners on this project have a strong track record of progressing collaborative projects through to completion on time and within budget.

The project team will make use of Wrike for project management, Skype for Business for virtual meetings, Office 365 for document creation and collaboration.

Three of the partners operate a shared service arrangement that has at its core a Shared Services Board made up of Chief Executives, Directors and Heads of Service. The project team will provide regular updates to the board on progress through to completion.

The fourth partner is a neighbouring local authority with strong links to one of the three Mid Kent partners geographically and through shared services. Each partner has their own  “senior management” or “corporate leadership” team, all of whom will be aware of and supportive of the project.

We will take advantage of the 3 day Agile for Teams course for the collaborative project team and use the project as a catalyst to promote other digital training courses available for councils signed up to the Local Digital Declaration, including senior leaders to attend the Local Leaders Digital Accelerator.

We will identify an officer from each partner to undertake the User Researcher training and have them participate in the user research part of this project, with the objective of building greater use of this approach in future projects.

If appropriate we would like to consider the use of the GDS user research labs to conduct user research.

We expect support and guidance from the Local Digital Collaboration Unit to help guide the work and ensure that we are meeting expectations for sharing assets and delivering work of value to the wider sector.