Richard Kingston

Council knows what's 'appnin'

Posted Sep 15, 2017

Today I made it into the local paper with some members of my team. Not all of them could make the photo call but for those that did, we’re now immortalised in ink and digital print forever more.

Coun Jenny Platts with the IT team Richard Kingston, Sudipa Das, Mathew Booth, Dan Roddis, Aidan Minton and Andras Revesz

It’s all part of a marketing campaign for our new progressive web app. We’re pretty sure we’re one of the first council’s in the country to take this innovative approach to providing a mobile app for our residents and businesses.

The article (which has since been edited on the Barnsley Chronicle website) originally read:

IT’S a first for Barnsley and it means your phone could tell you which bin is due to emptied. Barnsley Council has launched a new free web app, making access to services faster and more efficient for residents who use a mobile device to access the council website. The council is the first authority in the UK to use a web app facility which turns the council website into an easy to use app. It can be installed on the home screen of any android/iPhone device and gives quick access to popular forms and sections of the current website. Users are able to get alerts to notify them of bin collection days, report issues and search for jobs. The app was developed after statistics showed that more than half of Barnsley residents now access the council website on a mobile device. It is part of the council’s priority to support and encourage more people to access services online. The development uses innovative technology whilst also avoiding the large cost associated with creating bespoke apps for both Android and Apple products. Coun Jenny Platts said “This fantastic app is part of a programme to improve customer service and offer more of our services online. It will make it easier, quicker to access council services 24/7 and will give people the opportunity to use personalised alerts. I’d like to thank our teams for the hard work that’s gone into making it and would encourage people to install it and tell their friends and family about it.”

The progressive approach we’ve taken is really just the next big thing to hit the web after responsive design did back in 2010 (or at least that’s when the term was coined). It allows websites to leverage specific features of mobile devices that they previously couldn’t and as more than 50% of our website visitors are now using mobile devices, it’s the obvious thing to be enabling for them.

Using push notifications we can remind residents to put their bins out the evening before their collection is due. Using location services we can pinpoint where the pothole is that they’re currently reporting or tell them where their nearest car park is. We can enable offline browsing to help commuters ‘stay connected’ as they’re travelling and we can simplify the whole user experience overall. Best of all, we’ve been able to do all of this by simply layering progressive technologies on top of our existing website.

We use the free and open source Umbraco content management system that gives us complete freedom to code our website as we need. By layering it in this way, we’ve built a web app that updates itself in response to content changes on our website. This is important because it means our website management team can customise the web app and the website with no additional effort or systems to work with. That team are already invested in keeping our website up to date daily and so what we’ve done here is simply given them an extra outlet. Existing technologies and existing people mean we’ve rolled out an app without any additional expense.

Also, this approach allows our residents to install the app by simply visiting www.barnsley.gov.uk/app. There’s no need to visit an app store and thefore no need to hold an app store account. People simply press the large install button when they visit that page. This makes the whole process much simpler for our user base (some of whom aren’t so tech savvy) and is something we’re really proud of.

Barnsley Council web app. The easy way to get online. Barnsley.gov.uk/app

As we develop new digital customer services in the future, we’ll do so with both the website and the app in mind, making sure that the most benefit is given to both. I’m looking forward to planning those next steps.

If you’d like to know more, see our [Introducing the Barnsley Council App video] (https://www.barnsley.gov.uk/services/get-online-with-us/introducing-barnsley-council-app/).