As part of a project supported by the Local Digital Fund, Barnsley Council asked us to work with them to explore the options for sharing their in-house built Income Management System (IMS) with other councils.
Improving collaboration in local government is something that gets talked about a lot. It’s one of the main reasons the Local Digital Fund was set up by the Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing (DLUCH).
In working with Barnsley to explore the opportunities for sharing their IMS, we also hope to establish some helpful insights that others can use when thinking about sharing products and services.
Working with Barnsley and their partners, we now have a complete proposition for an IMS product and service for local authorities. The next stage is to test this in full as councils begin to adopt the product as part of a private beta.
We hold a vision to share our self-created solution with other councils. To us, it’s simply the right thing to do…We’ve been working with dxw to do this, as one team with a common goal, and I know we are putting ourselves in the right hands.
Richard Kingston is IT manager at Barnsley MBC
What we did
Barnsley obtained funding to run a discovery, and subsequently an alpha, to explore the income management and ePayment systems in use across local government. The aim of the work was to understand how the current marketplace meets the needs of local authorities and whether there is value in and the opportunity to share Barnsley’s own IMS solution.
What is an Income Management System?
An IMS is a set of business processes to keep track of the money in an organisation’s bank account – knowing where it came from, why it arrived and where it needs to go to. It’s used by local authorities to coordinate information between payment channels, finance systems and business systems like revenues and benefits, housing management, parking, licensing, and refuse collection.
Barnsley engaged dxw initially for a ten week period to help them with the discovery phase. We organised our discovery into 4 stages of inception, research, analysis, and conclusion.
During this phase we worked with 6 local authority partners on the project, Barnsley, North East Lincolnshire, Cherwell, Allerdale, Sheffield and Huntingdonshire. We collected information about income management systems in local government, and people’s experiences of them, through a combination of group workshops, interviews, online surveys, and desk based research.
We also introduced the council team to agile ways of working and tools that were new to them like Miro, Trello, Zoom and Google Docs.
What we learned:
- the market is dominated by 2 suppliers, with an estimated market value of £43m
- there are hidden costs in licensing that can’t be anticipated by councils
- there is a considerable appetite for an alternative product
- software alone isn’t enough – a support service is essential
- hosting and adoption routes need considering
- transparency and confidence in service longevity is important
- GOV.UK Pay is required as a payment gateway
We also identified some gaps in the functionality of the Barnsley IMS, like the ability to capture and reconcile payments made on chip and pin devices and automated telephone payments.
As a result, we proposed that the alpha phase should focus on:
- defining the support service needed by councils
- the infrastructure and architecture design
- prototyping product functionality
- an outline governance model
- further developing the proposition
We worked with 3 councils on the alpha – Barnsley, Dorset and Huntingdonshire. This smaller number of partners was deliberate and reflected the more focussed nature of the alpha compared to discovery.
We formed a single multidisciplinary team and started with a project inception, where we discussed how we would work together and created a high level strategic plan. Once we had a vision to unite behind, we set our scope – to define an end-to-end IMS proposition for users.
During the course of the alpha we spoke to stakeholders, held collaborative sessions with future users (IT officers/managers, Finance officers/managers, Procurement officers/managers, and Head of finance) and issued a survey.
We began by understanding the environment in which the IMS would operate. This was important, not only to think about the IMS product itself, but the systems it might integrate or communicate with.
Once we had a shared understanding of the landscape, we moved on to thinking about the users of the IMS. We found a range of user needs that varied based on digital capability. So we created a set of high level council personas to help shape our proposition and make sure our product and service was flexible enough.
We needed to understand more about the missing features of the product, so we worked together to research existing user journeys and then co-designed ideal journeys for the future. We then built prototypes of our new product features and tested them, and the new journey, with stakeholders.
We built on our understanding from discovery to shape a support model, identifying 4 different models and exploring each in detail including some indicative mapping against the council personas we had developed.
One of the major influences on adoption of the service by councils is the cost. Our assumption was that the total cost of ownership of the new IMS must be lower than the incumbents’ platforms.
We did some modelling that showed running costs would not reduce to a competitive level (<£50,000 per council) until there were more than 8 councils on board. Significant savings won’t be seen until more than 40 councils adopt the platform.
The IMS proposition was presented as part of a successful bid to DLUCH for further funding to progress to private beta. During private beta the proposition will be tested with real users including the councils that have been involved in alpha, plus up to 5 more.
We’re excited to see how the work progresses. We worked in the open and you can read more detail about the project, and keep up-to-date on progress, via the IMS project website.